Planning inspector should not have been influenced by Non Green Belt harms

Paragraph 88 of the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”) requires a planning decision taker, whether the Secretary of State through his Inspector, or a local planning authority, to ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. The function of the Green Belt is vital to the planning system.

To what extent can planners take into account “any other harm”, not listed under Green Belt in the NPPF, when considering inappropriate development in the Green Belt under the NPPF?

The revised policy framework under the NPPF is much more prescriptive towards decision takers than the previous guidance in the PPGs and PPSs.

There has been a major change of policy there.

Next, where an individual material consideration is harmful but the degree of harm has not reached the level which the NPPF prescribes as warranting refusal, would it be wrong to include that consideration as “any other harm”?

In Redhill Aerodrome Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors [2014] the High Court ruled that the answer was “yes”.

Here, the Inspector recognised that substantial weight should be attached to harm occasioned by the proposed development in the Green Belt. That conclusion was derived from her finding that

i) the development of the intended runway and related structures was inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and that

ii) there was a conflict with the Green Belt aim of preventing encroachment into the countryside.

The question was whether the Inspector was right to take into account other possible sources of harm?

The Inspector itemised those possible sources at paragraph 17 of her decision letter. They were landscape character and visual impact, noise and disturbance, highway capacity and safety, mode of travel, and the effect on airspace safety.

Given the clear guidance given in the NPPF It was not right for the Inspector to have taken the non Green Belt harms into account.

But could individual considerations be considered together as part of a cumulative consideration of harm even though individually each harm was evaluated to be at a lower level than prescribed for refusal in the NPPF?

It would not be right to do so. For the NPPF is a framework for clear decision making. There were no words in planning policy that permit a residual cumulative approach to Green Belt when each of the harms identified against a proposal is at a lower level than would be required for refusal if each harm was assessed on an individual basis.

In the absence of such wording, it was in clear conflict with current policy to allow a combination of adverse impacts, each at a lower level than prescribed for individual impacts, to be aggregated and cumulatively assessed as part of the harm of a Green Belt proposal.

It would re-introduce a possibility of cumulative harm which the NPPF does not provide for.

The NPPF did contemplate findings of residual cumulative harm in certain circumstances, as in paragraph 32, where it dealt with the residual cumulative impact of transport factors. However, that wording did not occur in the Green Belt section of the NPPF.

The decision of the Inspector was quashed.

This blog has been posted as a matter of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.