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NPPF2: The Green Belt prescription for plan-making

The revised NPPF was published after extended delay and bluster. More in hope than in expectation, the development industry was in a hurry to flick to Section 13 ‘Protecting Green Belt land’ in the anticipation that Green Belt policies had been substantially revised. It was a vain hope.

The changes

Fundamentally, the purpose of the Green Belt remains as strong as ever given the revised NPPF includes limited change from the draft version published for consultation in March 2018. 

However, paragraph 136 has been amended to include the need for exceptional circumstances to be “fully evidenced and justified” and reference to the preservation of openness has been removed from paragraph 145(e) in respect to classifying the appropriateness of ‘other forms’ of development.

Overall, the main change from the original NPPF (March 2012) is the inclusion of a new paragraph – paragraph 137. This requires local planning authorities to “examine fully other reasonable options for meetings its identified need for development” before concluding whether exceptional circumstances exist to justify changes to Green Belt boundaries.

The implications for plan-making

The examination of “other reasonable options” was first referred to in the Housing White Paper in February 2017 and has since been informally considered in the context of the Holding Notices enforced on the Birmingham Development Plan and the Bradford Core Strategy – causing significant delays to both local plans before their eventual adoption.

As with the aforementioned local plans, it is likely that the process for identifying and demonstrating “other reasonable options” will prove politically challenging for local planning authorities which have non-Green Belt land to turn to. However, it is considered that the allocation and subsequent development of non-Green Belt land (i.e. brownfield land or land beyond the outer Green Belt boundary) does not always contribute to sustainable development, which still remains the presumption of the NPPF.

In this context, the role of the Sustainability Appraisal has been elevated. Any assessment of “other reasonable options” will need to be tested against social, economic and environmental objectives in conjunction with assessing the options as an iterative process. Any such exercise should, in the words of paragraph 138, promote sustainable patterns of development – this should be the primary aim of any local plan regardless of whether land is Green Belt or not.

Furthermore, the process for testing and demonstrating reasonableness will no doubt further prolong the plan-making process. Local planning authorities will be under intense scrutiny to ensure the delivery of brownfield sites and to maximise density (which has its own political risks and challenges). This will need to be considered even before a local planning authority can start to think about the duty to cooperate, which is still proving challenging for authorities forming part of large Housing Market Areas

In an ideal world

The test for demonstrating exceptional circumstances has many strands and has complicated interactions with various requirements of the revised NPPF, including making effective use of land and the duty to cooperate.

It is our view that paragraph 137 could make or break local plans dealing with Green Belt. It will be imperative that the requirements of the new paragraph are adhered to as early on in the plan-making process to ensure a defendable spatial strategy is prepared, which unlocks land for housing and economic growth across the country, especially in the face of a housing crisis and the fast approaching post-Brexit economic environment.

For further information on the Green Belt please contact Sam Lake or Tim Burden. To find out how Turley can assist with Sustainability Appraisals please contact Colin Morrison.

09 August 2018

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