Benefits of forest holiday village held to outweigh green belt harm

The secretary of state has overruled an inspector's recommendation and granted outline planning permission for a Center Parcs development in Bedfordshire, finding that its economic, employment and ecological benefits would outweigh harm to the green belt.

The secretary of state agreed with the inspector that the scheme would cause very considerable harm to the green belt and its openness and that the new buildings would encroach into the countryside. But she did not consider that the inspector had given sufficient consideration to the scheme's potential to help create the levels of employment that would be required to match the level of housing provision proposed for the area.

She noted the inspector's conclusion that the proposal would make a direct and positive contribution to the tourism industry in Bedfordshire. However, she considered it appropriate to give less weight than he had to the uncertainties surrounding the scale and spread of these benefits.

The secretary of state accepted the inspector's conclusion that the proposal would undoubtedly bring very substantial, diverse and widespread economic and employment benefits to the area. She agreed that this did not amount to a very special circumstance that clearly outweighed the green belt harm on its own, but held that it should be given substantial weight when considering whether it could do so together with the proposal's other benefits.

The inspector argued that the company's proposals for enhancing the site's biodiversity should be regarded as making only a small positive contribution in any assessment of very special circumstances. The secretary of state felt that these should be given greater weight. She held that the proposal's beneficial effects amounted to very special circumstances of sufficient weight to outweigh green belt harm.

DCS Number 100-050-099

Inspector Chris Turner; Inquiry.

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