On 22nd July 2019, the Government published further Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on the role of the Green Belt in the planning system, following the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 (NPPF).
The new section of the PPG addresses three principal questions:
The advice contained within the PPG relates to both the decision making and plan-making process. Of particular relevance to the determination of applications is that the PPG sets out that the openness is capable of having both spatial and visual aspects. Simply put, the visual impact of the proposal will be relevant, as would its volume.
The duration of the development and its remediability, taking into account any provisions to return the land to its original state or to an equivalent (or improved) state of openness, can also now be taken into account. This may create opportunities for certain types of temporary development to be more favourably considered tan might previously have been the case.
On the flipside the degree of activity likely to be produced, such as the traffic generation of a proposal, is now a material consideration, which will need to be assessed on major projects of all types, even those that would otherwise be deemed to be appropriate development in the Green Belt.
Where it has been demonstrated that it is necessary to release Green Belt land for development, the PPG now states that strategic policy-making authorities should set out policies for compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of the remaining Green Belt land. This begs the question of whether improving the quality of the Green Belt can indeed override any impact on its openness. This could ease the release of Green Belt land for further housing, particularly that which involved previously developed land.
Compensatory improvements could comprise, among other things, new or enhanced green infrastructure, woodland planting, landscape and visual enhancements (beyond those needed to mitigate the immediate impacts of the proposal), improvements to biodiversity, habitat connectivity, new or enhanced walking and cycle routes, and improved access to new, enhanced or existing recreational and playing field provision. There will, inevitably, be much debate over the implications for land ownership, the amount of land required and its suitability.
Consideration will also need to be given to how these improvements will be secured. We anticipate it could be via the use of conditions, section 106 obligations or the Community Infrastructure Levy.
The main message to take away is that there is a definitive shift in the way in which development in the Green Belt is assessed. It is no longer simply a spatial designation, visual impact now has greater prominence. The implications of this for specific sites can be considered on a case by case basis.