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Development on green belt – the “special circumstances”

Development on green belt – the “special circumstances”

Published: 10/12/2019

The government demonstrated a marked reluctance to allow green belt development. However, chronic shortage of housing in the UK has continued to put pressure to release the land for development.

Appropriate forms of development which have policy support in the Green Belt are set out in Paragraph 145 of the NPPF as being:
  • buildings for agriculture and forestry;
  • the provision of appropriate facilities (in connection with the existing use of land or a change of use) for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation, cemeteries and burial grounds and allotments; as long as the facilities preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it;
  • extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building;
  • replacement of a building, provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger;
  • limited infilling in villages; and
  • limited affordable housing.
National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) revised in 2018 says that local authorities should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the green belt, with a few specific exceptions. Paragraph 144 of the framework states that "When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the green belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the green belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations."

It is problematic to define these circumstances, as these will vary from site to site. However, we can infer things from planning decisions. Below is the list of frequent factors hat inspectors or the secretary of state have regarded as "very special circumstances" to justify green belt development in recent years.

Unmet housing need plus social infrastructure


Housing need will not normally amount to very special circumstances, but that is not to say it cannot be a major element of an argument. For example housing secretary Sajid Javid allowed an appeal for the construction of 258 homes and a replacement school in the green belt at Effingham, Surrey. The council could only demonstrate just over two years housing land supply, which carried "very substantial weight".


Unmet housing need plus the site being the most appropriate one for new homes


An inspector granted permission for a 175-dwelling development in May 2018 in the green belt in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire. The inspector attached "considerable weight" to the council’s admission that it had identified only 3.1 years of housing land supply.


Community benefit plus site-specific circumstances


The London Borough of Ealing argued that very special circumstances existed when granting planning permission for a training centre for Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club alongside a community sports facility in June 2016. They concluded that the scheme was the only viable way to provide improved recreational facilities for the community.


Enabling the conservation of a listed building


A 31-home development in the Wirral green belt was approved by an inspector in December because it was necessary to secure the conservation of the Grade II*-listed Storeton Hall.
Political rhetoric will likely focus on “protecting” the green belt at all costs. The capital is currently awaiting Sadiq Khan’s soon-expected response to the call by the Planning Inspectorate for a full review of the metropolitan green belt.



Please speak to our 
Development Team to find out more.