Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Garden community in the green belt not justified

Out-Law News | 07 Feb 2023 | 4:00 pm | 3 min. read

The proposed tightening of green belt planning rules is going to make it harder to site garden communities on land proposed for release from the green belt in England, according to planning law experts who specialise in garden community projects.

Richard Ford and Clare Mirfin of Pinsent Masons were commenting in light of the Planning Inspectorate’s intervention on the Bracknell Forest draft local plan, where a new garden village proposal proposed on green belt land to be released for development has now been removed.

Included with the draft plan, drawn up by Bracknell Forest Council in Berkshire, were proposals for a new garden village at Jealott’s Hill, Warfield. The proposed site was on green belt land, and it was envisaged that around 2,000 new homes would be built there, alongside a neighbourhood centre, primary school and a new Science and Innovation Park. Publicly accessible greenspace, including sports pitches, play areas and country parks, were also earmarked for the garden village, which the council thought would help encourage agri-tech business Syngenta, which has an existing facility in the area, to make a long-term commitment to the community.

Planning inspectors Louise Nurser and David Troy examined the draft plan. They found that it was “unsound”, reasoning that the council’s plans to alter the green belt boundaries for the garden village development could not be justified.

At the heart of their decision was their conclusion that Bracknell Forest Council could meet its housing needs over the period of the plan without the new housing envisaged at the Jealott’s Hill garden village.

Ford Richard

Richard Ford


Important garden community schemes designed to respond to the need for housing, whilst protecting more valuable green belt in green belt constrained authorities, may now struggle to clear the first hurdle with the proposed government policy changes

Nurser and Troy described the site earmarked for development as “a sensitive rural landscape” and concluded that “the exceptional circumstances” required for development on green belt land under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) currently “have not been evidenced”. The planning inspectors said that a modified local plan can proceed to development, which Bracknell Forest Council has said it will work on delivering.

Councillor Chris Turrell said: “Naturally, it is disappointing that the plan is not able to be adopted as it stands, especially as there were extremely important economic reasons why the Jealott’s Hill development was put forward. However, we are grateful to planning inspectors for their invaluable comments and the recognition that we have worked hard to create a plan that meets the future needs of our residents and businesses.”

Ford said that the proposed changes to the NPPF which are subject to consultation will only make matters worse. The changes proposed would mean local planning authorities, when drawing up local plans, would not be obliged to review and alter green belt boundaries if that was the only way in which the authority could meet local housing need in full. The authorities would remain free to review and alter the boundaries if they wished, subject to them being able to meet the existing requirement that “exceptional circumstances” exist to justify green belt development.

Ford said: “Important garden community schemes designed to respond to the need for housing, whilst protecting more valuable green belt in green belt constrained authorities, may now struggle to clear the first hurdle with the proposed government policy changes.”

“It is often the case that garden community sized schemes are specifically designed to be a large chunk of the housing supply for a green belt constrained authority as that protects the integrity of the green belt areas in other more valuable locations in that authority’s area. The draft amended NPPF wording could well lead to an inability to bring such sites forward, leading to a crash in the green belt constrained authorities’ abilities to meet their housing need,” he said.

The government has said the planned change “would remove any ambiguity about whether authorities are expected to review the green belt, which is something which has caused confusion and often protracted debate during the preparation of some plans”. However, Ford said the move was retrograde and would make it more difficult to meet national housing targets.

Ford said: “At a time when post-Brexit Britain is supposed to be looking to progress beyond economic malaise, it is not helpful that well-designed garden communities, which include valuable affordable housing provision, will find it harder to get going. I expect we will see either more housing delivery stagnation in green belt constrained authority areas and more pressure on those without green belt. I also expect more appeals based on very special circumstances.”

The government’s proposed changes to the NPPF are open to consultation until 2 March.

Clare Mirfin added: “As well as continuing the trend of green belt schemes coming under pressure since the NPPF consultation was launched, the Jealott’s Hill decision also indicates that an opportunity to co-locate jobs and homes to support the future economic development of an area may not amount to an exceptional circumstance capable of being relied upon for the release of land from the green belt for housing where the housing requirement can be shown to be otherwise met. Whilst these cases are always fact specific, that is also a cause for concern.”

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