The proposal comprised 112,000 square metres of employment floorspace and supporting infrastructure including amenities, open space, landscaping, a bus and cycle interchange, vehicular accesses and highway improvements. Commercial development was proposed on 108 hectares of the site, with the interchange proposed on a further seven hectares falling within the green belt.
The secretary of state agreed with his inspector that the interchange works consisted of local transport infrastructure that would require a green belt location and were therefore not inappropriate development in terms of the NPPF. Their main concerns focused on the scheme’s impact on the area’s rural character and designated heritage assets and whether any harms found would be overcome by the scheme’s employment and transport benefits.
The secretary of state agreed with the inspector that the proposal would negatively transform the open rural landscape by closing off distant views and increasing a sense of enclosure, resulting in a major landscape change that would not be mitigated over time. He also agreed that the proposal would lead to less than substantial harm to nearby heritage assets including a grade II listed grange, a grade II* listed church and a conservation area, according this factor moderate significance. He considered that the loss of 33 hectares of best and most versatile agricultural land would have an adverse effect, albeit of minor significance.
Weighing the planning balance, the secretary of state considered the claimed benefits arising from the agro-technology park. He agreed with his inspector that these benefits could only be realised if effective user restrictions were imposed to ensure that occupiers complied with specified agro-technology requirements in order to avoid the site becoming a general business park, which would be of limited benefit in an area with existing employment land available.
He concluded that none of the conditions proposed to restrict occupancy would meet the NPPF tests of necessity, reasonableness and precision. The absence of an appropriate mechanism to control occupation of the park diminished the weight that could be given to its claimed benefits, he held. He concluded that the heritage and other harms resulting from the scheme outweighed its benefits.
Inspector: John Woolcock; Inquiry