Green Belt (again) – the Supreme Court has ruled further on the interpretation of Green Belt policy

February 12, 2020

By Peter Dixon

Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances (NPPF paragraph 143).

When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations (NPPF paragraph 144).

The construction of new buildings in the Green Belt is to be regarded as inappropriate development, subject to certain exceptions (NPPF paragraph 145).

Certain other forms of development are also ‘not inappropriate’ in the Green Belt:

“…provided they preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it” (NPPF paragraph 146).

There then follows a list of development categories, including engineering operations, mineral extraction and material changes in the use of land, all of which are potentially ‘not inappropriate’ if they meet the paragraph 146 criteria.

The question is, how does one determine whether a particular proposal in one of the generic categories does indeed preserve the openness of the Green Belt and not conflict with the purposes of including land within the Green Belt?

In R(on the application of Samuel Smiths Old Brewery (Tadcaster) and others) v North Yorkshire County Council and others [2020] UKSC 3 the Supreme Court considered the question on an appeal by the mineral planning authority against the decision of the Court of Appeal on a claim brought by a third party objector arising from the grant of planning permission for an extension to a quarry in the Green Belt near Selby. In granting permission, the authority concluded that the extension would preserve openness of the Green Belt and would not conflict with the purposes of the Green Belt concerned.  The objector contended that in doing so the authority had failed to properly consider the visual impacts of the development and that such consideration was necessarily part of any assessment of the effects of development on openness.

Whilst the Court of Appeal had agreed with the objector, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the authority’s appeal, holding that there was nothing in the relevant sections of the NPPF to mandate the consideration of visual impact when assessing impact on openness and that whilst visual impact might be a relevant consideration in some cases:

“…the matters relevant to openness in any particular case are a matter of planning judgment, not law.”