The Secretary of State rejects residential proposals in York’s Green Belt on green belt and landscape grounds, as well as concerns regarding the impact on an irreplaceable habitat, notwithstanding a serious housing land shortage.
Although the Secretary of State (SoS) has recently allowed other appeals relating to residential development in the green belt, in this appeal the City of York Council successfully defended its refusal of an application for land in the Green Belt to the south of the City for 516 residential units, a Local Centre, a Sports Pavilion and associated infrastructure, creation of an Ecological Protection and Enhancement Zone (EPEZ) and vehicular access arrangements.
This is in the context of the City having no development plan and being unable to demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply and the seriousness of the shortfall being recognised. Also, the proposals offer a higher (35%) element of affordable housing than required by policy (30%). However, In his decision of 13th May 2020 the SoS accepted the Inspector’s recommendation to dismiss the appeal. In particular:
He agreed with the Inspector’s consideration of the potential impact on the openness of the Green Belt and that the proposed development would compromise the visual openness of the Green Belt. He also agreed that the degree of harm caused to the openness of the Green Belt would be substantial rather than overwhelming; and he considered that substantial weight should be given to this harm.
The SoS also agreed that while the loss of the site to built development would cause little harm to the landscape, in contrast the EPEZ would cut across existing hedgerows, drains and landscape features and would present an abrupt slope to the new bund. He therefore agreed that the EPEZ would be an alien feature at odds with the existing character of the countryside; and that it would fail to respect the intrinsic character and beauty of the landscape. He therefore also agrees with the Inspector’s conclusion that the EPEZ would be inconsistent with national policy expressed by Framework policy 170(b).
The EPEZ was proposed to protect the nearby Askham Bog SSI, which the SoS agreed comprises a precious and delicate range of habitats that requires continued human intervention to maintain it in a stable condition, or to restore it to a previous condition. The SoS also agreed with the Inspector’s conclusion that unless there are control measures in place, there is a degree of substance in the fears of damage to the Bog through unauthorised access. It was concluded that the benefits of the development did not clearly outweigh its likely impact, and that there were no wholly exceptional circumstances which would justify the deterioration of the habitat, as required by para. 175(c) of the Framework, and the development should be refused.
However, the SoS also concluded that the very special circumstances required to justify the development cannot be said to exist, as the harm to the Green Belt and the landscape, and the probable harm to the interests for which Askham Bog is cited as an SSSI and the irreplaceable fenland habitat were not clearly outweighed by other considerations.
Accordingly, the SoS considered that there were protective policies within the Framework which provided a clear reason for refusal and the presumption in favour of sustainable development did not apply.
Stephen Morgan of Landmark Chambers acted for the City of York Council.