The main issue was whether the benefits of either crematorium clearly outweighed harm to the green belt and any other harm. The council and the appellants agreed on the compelling need for a new crematorium to relieve pressure on an existing one and that it would have to be located in the green belt, constituting very special circumstances that would outweigh the harm arising from inappropriate development.
The inspector placed significantly more weight on the landscape and historic environment benefits of the first scheme than the accessibility benefits of the second. In his view, the fact that the latter site had more than twice the population within a half-hour drive time was "superfluous evidence" and a rule of thumb method for assessing need that was immaterial, given the agreed starting position.
The secretary of state completely disagreed with the inspector on this point, giving the accessibility factor significant weight in the planning balance. While agreeing that the first scheme would provide a significant benefit to the historic parkland setting of a listed heritage asset, he did not consider that this was the only way in which this benefit could be achieved, so he afforded it only moderate weight.
Conversely, he found that the increased burial capacity resulting from the second scheme would provide a direct public benefit that could not be achieved in any other way. In the context of the need for a new crematorium, he concluded that the sustainability benefits associated with this scheme’s accessibility provided the very special circumstances needed to justify it as inappropriate development in the green belt.
Inspector: John Braithwaite; Inquiry