Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Redhill Aerodrome Ltd1

The Court of Appeal has reversed a decision of the High Court which would have made it less difficult for applicants to obtain planning permission for inappropriate development in the green belt. This marks a continuation in green belt policy under the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPG”) as taken under the Planning Policy Guidance 2 (“PPG2”).

Background

Earlier this year the High Court quashed a planning inspector’s refusal of planning permission for the construction of a hard runway, and supportive infrastructure, to replace existing grass runways at the Redhill Aerodrome2. The land borders two local authorities and falls within the metropolitan green belt.

It was common ground that the works constituted  “inappropriate development” as per paragraph 87 of the NPPG (see below). The High Court held the inspector had taken too wide an approach to “any other harm” when considering whether harm to the green belt is outweighed by “other considerations”.

Green Belt Policy

The protection of the green belt is one of the twelve core planning principles of the NPPG:

  • As with previous green belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the green belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.
  • 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 potential harm to the green belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.” (emphasis added)

The Decision

The High Court previously held in River Club3 in reliance largely on the construction of the PPG2, that “any other harm must [...] refer to some other harm than that which is caused through the development being inappropriate. It can refer to harm in the green belt context, but need not necessarily do so”4.

It was held by the High Court that there had been a considerable policy shift in the NPPG. Where a general planning consideration is harmful but the degree of harm has not reached the level prescribed in the NPPG so as to warrant refusal, the High Court held it would be wrong to include that consideration as “any other harm” in the case of the green belt.

This approach would make it less difficult for applicants to obtain planning permission for inappropriate development in the green belt because the task of establishing “very special circumstances”, while never easy, would be less difficult. All of the considerations in favour of granting permission would now be weighed against only some, rather than all of the planning harm that would be caused by an inappropriate development.

The Court of Appeal held that if this had been the Government’s intention it was likely that there would have been a clear statement to that effect. No such statement had been made, and in fact all of the indications were to the contrary. Protection of the green belt is a central policy and one which the Government did not intend to change.

The underlying purpose of the policy was to protect the essential characteristics of the green belt. There was nothing illogical in requiring all non-green belt factors to be taken into account when deciding whether planning permission should be granted on what would be non-green belt grounds (“very special circumstances”) for a development that was, by definition, harmful to the green belt.