Oaklands Appeal for Greenbelt/MOL development allowed
In the recent appeal of Oaklands College and Taylor Wimpey Homes against a refusal by St Alban's City and District Council (reference APP/B1930/W/15/3051164), the Secretary of State allowed a development scheme within Metropolitan Open Land/Green Belt because the harm was outweighed by significant other benefits.
According to the National Planning Police Framework, the construction of new buildings in the Green Belt is inappropriate and, by definition, harmful. A local authority must ensure that "substantial weight" is given to any such harm to the Green Belt (paragraph 88). However in "very special circumstances" the potential harm to the Green Belt will be permitted where it is "clearly outweighed by other considerations".
It can often be difficult for a developer to determine when development on the Green Belt will be permitted if said development does not fall within one of the specific exceptions in paragraph 89 of the NPPF. The recent appeal decision therefore provides a helpful example as to when development will be permitted on the Green Belt due to the "very special circumstances" of other benefits outweighing the harm to the Green Belt.
The scheme proposed comprehensive redevelopment in Hertfordshire to provide landscaping, new college buildings and over 300 dwellings. Despite the harm to the Green Belt and the harm to the openness of the Green Belt, the Secretary of State identified various benefits of the scheme:
- There were advantages in terms of landscaping as well as significant improvements to the College which weighed "heavily" in the scheme's favour.
- The scheme would provide 35% affordable housing in an area where the Local Plan policies relating to housing supply were out of date. This factor was afforded "significant weight".
- The proposals caused limited other harm, namely there was no harm to protected trees or to a community forest and there was no flood risk.
The Secretary of State determined that these "persuasive material considerations" clearly outweighed the harm to the Green Belt/MOL and therefore the scheme was justified.
Interestingly, in the London Development Conference that took place earlier this month, a speaker for the DCLG accepted that relaxation of the Green Belt "made sense" but was difficult to achieve being highly sensitive politically. A suggestion was made that perhaps a compromise might be to allow more development on MOL land as distinguished from Green Belt as at the moment the tests are aligned. The DCLG representative acknowledged this might be a way forward.
A link to the appeal can be found here.