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Green Belt Policy Bows to Big Mixed-Use Development

In an important decision which addressed the balance to be struck between green belt and housing land allocation policies, the Court of Appeal backed plans for a substantial mixed-use development, including 200 new homes, on a 33.6 hectare site formerly owned by the Government.

Almost 80 per cent of the local authority area in which the site was located was taken up by the metropolitan green belt. In those circumstances, the council had proposed shifting the green belt boundaries to create more space for housing. However, at the time planning permission was granted for the site, it remained within the green belt.

The site was occupied by 77 industrial buildings, many of them dilapidated, and had good transport links, being very close to a motorway and served by its own railway station. Whilst accepting that the project would be inappropriate development of the green belt, the local authority found that there were very special circumstances which justified the grant of planning consent.

In ruling on a neighbouring landowner’s challenge to that decision, a judge accepted that a planning officer had incorrectly advised councillors that to permit housing development on the site was the only way in which the area’s five-year housing land supply target could be met. However, in refusing to quash the permission, he found that a grant of consent for the project was in any event inevitable.

In dismissing the objector’s appeal against that ruling, the Court found that, in the light of national planning policies, the pressing need for more homes in the area and the site’s particular suitability for that purpose, councillors would have reached the same decision even if correctly advised.