Inspector's decision reinstated in green belt wrangle

The Court of Appeal has concluded that reasons provided by an inspector in dismissing a plan by Redhill Aerodrome to replace grass airstrips with concrete runways were adequate to support her overall conclusion that the scheme failed to comply with green belt policy and very special circumstances had not been demonstrated. In so ruling the court quashed a previous judgment by Mrs Justice Patterson which had allowed the appellant's challenge to the inspector's decision.

In February 2014 the inspector concluded that the proposed development was inappropriate and in applying paragraph 88 of the national planning policy framework (NPPF) reference to "any other harm" was construed in the context of any additional impacts which arose and not limited to any impacts on the green belt only. The impact on the landscape character of the area was given moderate weight and limited harm was identified in respect of noise and the inability to satisfactorily resolve capacity and mode of travel issues.

In the High Court the appellants  successfully argued that in taking non-green belt harm into account the inspector had erred. Specifically, the company asserted that reference to "any other harm" was confined solely to any other harm to the green belt. The judge subsequently accepted that the policy context within the NPPF was materially different from that set out in Planning Policy Guidance 2 on green belts and as a consequence the inspector had been wrong in law to take into account non-green belt harm in undertaking the balancing exercise in the context of paragraph 88 of the framework. The court ruled that there had been a ‘considerable policy shift’, concluding that where an individual material consideration was harmful but had not reached the level prescribed in the NPPF to justify refusal, it was wrong to include that as a consideration under "any other harm".

Lord Justice Sullivan, in allowing the secretary of state’s appeal against this decision, concluded that excluding non-green belt harm from "any other harm" in paragraph 88 would make it less difficult for applicants to obtain planning permission for inappropriate development in the green belt. If the government had intended to make such a significant change in the NPPF it was likely that clear statements to this effect would have been made. However, no such statements were included within the document and in fact protecting the green belt remained one of the core planning principles. Since the framework had to be read as a whole all ‘other considerations’ in favour of granting permission which by definition would include non-green belt factors had to go into the balance, so there was no reason why "any other harm" whether green belt or non-green belt related should not also go into the weighing exercise. Consequently, the inspector had been correct in taking into account the other impacts which were not directly related to the green belt in the context of her interpretation of ‘any other harm’. The High Court’s ruling was therefore set aside and the inspector’s decision reinstated.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & others v Redhill Aerodrome Ltd

Date: 24 October 2014

Ref: C/1361/2014

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