Community centre found unacceptable in green belt

Concerns over harm to the green belt and ancient woodland have prompted refusal of a Buckinghamshire parish council’s plans for a community centre.

The village edge site was occupied by a smaller existing village hall and fell entirely within designated green belt. The appellant claimed that the scheme qualified for various exceptions to the presumption against inappropriate development in green belt set out in paragraphs 145 and 146 of the NPPF, but the inspector rejected them all. He found no compelling evidence to justify the appellants’ fallback claim that the development was being brought forward under a community right to build order.

He disagreed that the entire site was brownfield land, since it included an area of trees. Whereas the existing village hall was a single-storey building, he noted, the proposed community centre would be two storeys high and its footprint and volume would increase by more than 130 per cent. In his view, this materially larger structure and a larger car park attracting a greater intensity of use would have a much greater impact on openness and contribute to urban sprawl, so it was inappropriate development in the green belt.

The proposal involved removing trees, which the inspector judged would have a stark visual effect, eroding the site’s wooded character and causing harm to ancient woodland and protected individual trees. He also considered that future pressure on retained trees with extensive canopies had been underestimated and that further erosion of the site’s woodland character would be to the detriment of the area’s character and appearance generally.

While taking into account public support for the development, its community benefits and a lack of suitable alternative facilities, the inspector concluded that these factors did not outweigh the totality of harm to the green belt and existing trees on the site. Consequently, he concluded, the very special circumstances needed to justify inappropriate development did not exist.

Inspector: Christopher Butler; Written representations

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