Planning: “Other harm” may include non – green belt factors

Amongst the twelve “Core planning principles” in the National Planning Policy Framework (“the Framework”) is the protection of the Green Belt around main urban areas.

Under Paragraph 87, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

Under Paragraph 88, substantial weight must be 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, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.”

Do the words “any other harm” mean “any other harm to the Green Belt”, or do they extend to any other harm that is relevant for planning purposes, for example harm to landscape character, noise disturbance, adverse visual impact or adverse traffic impact?

Failing to take account of non – Green Belt harm as “any other harm” would make it easier to get planning permission for inappropriate development in the Green Belt as it would remove some of the obstacles to establishing “very special circumstances”. That is because all of the considerations in favour of granting permission would now be weighed against only some, rather than all, of the planning harm that an inappropriate development would cause in the Green Belt.

In Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors v Redhill Aerodrome Ltd [2014] the Court of Appeal said that had the Government intended to make such a significant change to Green Belt policy in the Framework it would have been expected to have made a clear statement to that effect.

All “other considerations” would, by definition, be non-Green Belt factors. If all “other considerations” in favour of granting permission, had to go into the planners’ weighing exercise, there could be no sensible reason to exclude “any other harm”, whether it was Green Belt or non-Green Belt harm, from that weighing exercise.

The Framework did not derogate from the fundamental statutory duty to have regard to “any other material consideration” when determining a planning application or appeal.

When deciding whether “material considerations indicate otherwise” the local planning authority or the Secretary of State would consider all of the “material considerations” i.e.:

– those which point in favour of granting permission e.g. employment and economic considerations, and

– those which, in themselves, or in combination with them conflicting with the development plan, militated against the grant of permission.

If the proposed development would cause some, insignificant harm to biodiversity, some insubstantial harm to the setting of a listed building, and some, unsevere residual adverse cumulative transport impact, those harmful impacts would nevertheless constitute “material considerations” militating against the grant of planning permission.

The fact biodiversity grounds, heritage grounds or transport grounds would not of themselves justify a refusal of planning permission did not mean that planners could simply ignore their harm to those interests. Though the weight to be given to that harm would for the local authority planning committee or Planning Inspector to decide in the light of the policies set out in the Framework.

In short they would not cease to be a “material consideration” merely because that particular ground, taken individually, had not crossed the threshold in the Framework for a refusal of planning permission.

If development is proposed within the Green Belt, the position will be no different, save that the “very special circumstances” test will be applied if the proposal is for inappropriate development within the Green Belt.

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