The appeal site was in agricultural use and so the inspector immediately affirmed the proposal to replace the agricultural buildings with five dwellings would amount to inappropriate development in the green belt under paragraph 145 of the NPPF, by definition harmful, and one which should not be approved unless very special circumstances existed. In terms of impact on green belt openness, the inspector referred to the recent Supreme Court judgment in Samuel Smith Old Brewery, Tadcaster and others v North Yorkshire CC, 2020. She considered that whilst an up to five per cent reduction in built volume at the site resulting from the proposal would have a limited benefit to openness in terms of spatial mass, overall she felt the domestication of the site would have a more urbanising visual effect compared with the existing agricultural use, representing an encroachment into the countryside and therefore resulting in harm to the green belt by reason of conflict with one of the purposes of including land within it.
Having concluded green belt harms existed, the inspector considered the appellant’s fallback position as a special circumstance. Two of the barns at the appeal site had prior approval for conversion to five dwellings and commercial use respectively and the inspector felt there was a good chance the schemes could be implemented. But whilst the inspector held the appeal scheme would have benefits to character and appearance and to the living conditions of neighbouring occupants on a localised scale, she also held it would represent a materially greater degree of encroachment into the countryside than the fallback position which diluted the benefits of the appeal scheme compared to the fallback position. In the green belt balance, the inspector concluded the moderate weight afforded to the fallback position and limited weight afforded to visual benefits, openness and housing supply were insufficient overall to outweigh the harms to the green belt she identified.
Inspector: Jillian Rann; Written representations