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Care needed in applying local green belt policies

In R (Lensbury Ltd) v Richmond-Upon-Thames London Borough Council [2016] EWCA Civ 814 the Court of Appeal disagreed with the High Court and agreed to quash permission for a hydro-power installation at a weir on Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). The appellant hotel owner succeeded on the grounds that the authority had, in applying its own policies on MOL development, failed to apply the stricter London Plan policies.

London Green Belt

The London Plan gives MOL equivalent status to green belt (applying NPPF policies – i.e. inappropriate development should not be allowed unless there are ‘very special circumstances’ (VSC)). The local plan policies allowed the development to be classified as ‘appropriate development’ in a way that the London Plan policy did not. The authority considered only the local policies.

Failing to refer to the specific (London Plan) policy in the committee report which provided the rationale for the decision was not fatal when considering the extent of compliance with the development as a whole (under Section 38(6) Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004). The analysis did, however, have to make clear that “a particular policy has been brought into account“.

VSC need to be clear

By failing to identify the development as inappropriate in the context of London Plan MOL policy, the authority had failed to ask whether VSC existed which justified the exceptional grant of planning permission. The S.38(6) duty – to determine in accordance with the development plan as a whole, or identify reasons for a different approach – had therefore not been discharged.

The judgment is a reminder that the Courts are pragmatic on the application of S.38(6). The duty does not require a mechanistic treatment of each policy (City of Edinburgh Council v Secretary of State for Scotland [1977] 1 WLR 1447).  An overall finding of “compliance or conflict” with the development plan as a whole is sufficient, whether express or implicit.

The judgment notes that the dilution of the London Plan approach by the local plan policy appeared to have been overlooked. One oddity of the case is that agreement between the parties that the two policies did not take precedence over each other does not appear to reflect S.38(4), which provides that where there is conflict the most recently adopted policy trumps the older one.