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Planning policy shift raises barrier to building waste facilities in green belt

09 February 2015

We have written an article for Waste Planning Magazine.

We have written an article for Waste Planning magazine.

You can read the article in full below, and on the Waste Planning website here. This article is behind a paywall.

Seeking planning permission for a waste scheme in the green belt has always involved considered interpretation and (often) legal analysis of planning policy. As sensitivities about development in the green belt continue, a recent significant policy change has sought to put waste developments in the spot light. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) October 2014 policy document, National Planning Policy for Waste, replaces Planning Policy Statement 10 (PPS 10) (Planning for Sustainable Waste Management) and has, in the Secretary of State’s words,

“strengthened the policy on planning for waste facilities such as recycling plants making clear that companies and councils looking to build these should first look for suitable sites and areas on brownfield land.”

The new policy must be read in conjunction with and is to be considered alongside other national planning policy for England including, of course, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Even given the differences of interpretation which detailed analysis of policy invariably brings, the new policy document does change the previous policy stance, and does raise the regulatory barrier in any relevant planning determination process. The policy is now such that local planning authorities are not justified in giving special consideration to locational needs, or to wider economic benefits which the site could bring, over other considerations, in their approval of waste facilities in the green belt. The aim is to direct applications for facilities that, if located in the green belt would be inappropriate development, to suitable sites and areas outside the green belt. One way of seeing it is that the default position for the location of waste facilities is now always to be sites outside the green belt in the first instance.

The primacy of the local plan in the consenting process is rightly supported in the policy document. Waste planning authorities are reminded of the importance of their evidence base in the production of their local plans. They are to -

"ensure that the planned provision of new capacity and its spatial distribution is based on robust analysis of best available data and information, and an appraisal of options…..“ and should work "jointly and collaboratively with other planning authorities to collect and share data and information on waste arisings…”.

Further, and using that evidence, the particular locational needs of certain facilities are to be identified by waste planning authorities when preparing their local plans, ensuring that this point is addressed at the development planning stage. This creates the legal framework whereby approval should only be given for waste schemes in the green belt in very special circumstances, the same test that applies to other development types in the green belt.

DCLG present this as a realignment of, rather than a shift in, the position, and one which simply underscores the protection already afforded to the green belt under the NPPF. Lawyers may take a different view but suffice to say it is generally accepted that the position going forward is clearer. Indeed, planning lawyers, used to testing the appropriateness of planning applications in other development sectors on the basis of a sequential test, may well interpret this new approach in a similar fashion. Under any such sequential test the planning authority would be obliged always to look first at suitable sites outside the green belt for a waste scheme on the basis that, if it were to be located in the green belt, it would be inappropriate development. In those other development sectors, the courts have opined on the role of this type of sequential test in planning decisions in a variety of instances (looking at how the question of “suitability” is to be interpreted, for example). Without wishing to prejudge the position at all, it seems possible that the operation of this new policy will fall subject to similar scrutiny, particularly given that the new policy (with only 5 pages of substantive policy) is much shorter than PPS 10 (which held 25 pages of substantive provisions), and as such there may be instances where other papers (perhaps PPS 10) will have to be relied upon to assist in interpretation.

Originally published on 4 February 2015

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