In an important test of recently reformed Green Belt policies, the High Court has ruled that, whilst the development of outdoor sporting and recreational facilities in protected areas is ‘potentially not inappropriate’, very special circumstances will still be required to justify grants of planning permission.
The case concerned plans to change the use of nine hectares of agricultural land into a camp site targeted at the burgeoning number of cyclists using the nearby national cycle network. The developers argued that permitting 120 touring caravans and up to 60 tents, along with a shop, reception and amenity blocks, on the site would bring substantial benefits to the local economy and tourism.
However, the relevant local authority refused planning permission for the scheme on the basis that it would be a foreign encroachment on the Green Belt and that any benefits would be outweighed by the harm caused to the area’s openness and unspoilt visual amenity. That decision was subsequently upheld by a Government planning inspector following a public inquiry.
In dismissing the developer’s appeal, the High Court rejected arguments that, on a correct interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework, the scheme should have been viewed as appropriate in the Green Belt inasmuch as it comprised outdoor sporting and recreational facilities.
The Court found that that construction of the framework was too broad and ruled that, whilst such facilities should be viewed as potentially not inappropriate, planning consent for them should only be granted where they preserve the openness of their rural setting and do not otherwise conflict with Green Belt policies.
Whilst the inspector had fallen into error in one respect, he had properly appreciated the potential economic and tourism benefits of the scheme and had been entitled to conclude that there were no very special circumstances justifying the grant of consent. It was not arguable that the inspector had misapplied the framework and he had given adequate reasons for his decision.