One of the more significant changes introduced by the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July presents wider opportunities for development of previously developed land in the Green Belt, but it has attracted little attention in the planning press among the hype surrounding the standard methodology for assessing Local Housing Need and the impacts on emerging Local Plans.
The old NPPF confirmed that redevelopment of previously developed sites was not inappropriate, and therefore did not require very special circumstances as justification, providing it “would not have a greater impact” on the openness of the Green Belt and the purpose of including land within it than the existing development (para 89). Addressing this test principally required an applicant or appellant to demonstrate that a combination of footprint, volume, height and spread of the proposed development was no worse than the impact of the existing buildings, with the overall conclusion a judgement call by the decision maker.
The revised NPPF loosens this test by stating that redevelopment is not inappropriate where the proposal would not have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt than existing development or would not cause “substantial harm” to openness and would contribute to “meeting an identified affordable housing need within the area of the local planning authority” (para 145).
In a nutshell, this change moves us from a position of having to demonstrate ‘no harm’ to openness to ‘no substantial harm’ when redeveloping brownfield sites in the Green Belt, where schemes contribute to Affordable Housing. This new test is difficult to quantify and could be interpreted on a much wider basis. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out under planning applications and appeals and ultimately via case law over the coming months.
Where schemes do not provide any Affordable Housing the old test in respect of openness still applies. The need to address the impact on the purposes of the Green Belt has been removed, but in reality this will make little difference for most sites.
Sites that fall within the definition of previously developed land under Annex 2 of the NPPF are surprisingly common in Green Belt authorities and their development potential can present good opportunities for clients. The small tweak introduced to national planning policy should mean that significantly more development is possible on these sites where eligibility criteria are met and strong arguments promoted.
To highlight what can be achieved, Bidwells recently obtained planning permission for 23 new homes in the Green Belt from Basildon Council’s Planning Committee, shown in the image below prepared by our Urban Design Studio. The Council accepted a 30% increase in development volume and 20% increase in footprint compared with the existing buildings on the site, which accommodated a disused family entertainment centre. This scheme contributed to local Affordable Housing through an off-site contribution, albeit at more than half the amount normally required by policy following application of the Vacant Building Credit. This scheme was prepared to address the requirements of the old NPPF, and obtained officer support on that basis prior to the revised Framework’s publication, but there is little doubt that introduction of the new policy helped to progress more smoothly through Committee.
There is scope to achieve much more in future.
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