In July, the Court of Appeal handed down guidance on how councils should interpret local planning policies in relation to green wedges.
Green wedges are defined by the government’s Planning Portal as “open areas around and between parts of settlements, which maintain the distinction between the countryside and built-up areas, prevent the coalescence (merging) of adjacent places and can also provide recreational opportunities".
Lord Justice Lindblom, sitting with Lady Justice Rafferty and Lord Justice Newey, set out a clear process for considering development in green wedges. Some commentators have suggested that this could open the way for more encroachment on open space.
Liverpool City Council had approved the scheme for 51 homes on land in the Calderstones/Woolton green wedge at Harthill Road in south Liverpool in 2017, but this was overturned in the High Court after a judicial review in 2019. The council took the case to the Court of Appeal, because it considered that the judge had misinterpreted its green wedge protection policy by confusing it with the much more restrictive national policy on green belt.
In his judgement, Lord Lindblom contrasted the council’s policies on green belt which, reflecting national policy, allow the construction of new buildings “only in very special circumstances” with its green wedge policies. In the area in question, the policies “seek to protect and improve the open character, landscape, recreational and ecological quality” of the green wedge.
In contrast to the High Court judge’s opinion, Lindblom concluded that the planning officer's handling of the application was "unimpeachable". Giving guidance for the future, the judge said: "What is required is a realistic assessment of the impact that this development, on this site, and in its own surroundings, will have on the 'predominantly open character' of the green wedge.”
Proposals for green belt and green wedge designations came forward in tandem in the early part of the 20th century to manage the development of urban centres. “Major cities are protected by green belt, but green wedges have been designated extensively by local authorities in many areas,” says Andrew Bramidge, head of planning at Harlow Council. “Wedges aim to restrict the coalescence of towns and cities and as long narrow strips of green space they give residents access to the countryside. The original masterplan for Harlow new town included several wedges, which we have successfully protected from unwanted development.”
Rural conservationists claim that the judgment could make it easier to build in green wedges. “Green wedges are not accorded the protection they deserve and this judgement won’t help,” said Richard Simmons, chair of the policy committee at the Campaign to Protect Rural England. “Development can be allowed on green wedges if the council doesn’t have an up-to-date local plan and a five-year housing land supply under the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development.”
His analysis is supported by solicitors spoken to by Planning. “In contrast to green belts, green wedges are not mentioned in the National Planning Policy Framework,” says Ricardo Gama, senior associate at law firm Town Legal. “The Court of Appeal’s judgement clearly emphasised the importance of local plan policies in managing development in green wedges. Councils should consider reviewing the green wedge policies in their local plans if they want to ensure protection from development is maximised.”
“The pragmatism which the judge suggested councils should apply when considering planning applications in green wedges could make it easier for them to be built on,” said Kathryn Hampton, senior expertise lawyer at Ashurst. “Local plan policies need to be tightened up if councils want to restrict development.”