Sunday, 30 April 2017

Brownfield Green Belt: A glimpse of the stupidity of England's planning system


Those of you who watched the Tour de Yorkshire might have caught a glimpse of Denholme as the cyclists swished through the little South Pennine village. It's not going to win any prizes for prettiness but nevertheless its a great little community. Now what you won't have spotted is this:



This, you'll agree, is a bit of an eyesore. A few years ago is was a stone mill owned an operated under the name Denholme Velvets but that business finished and the mill has gone - another footnote in the decline of traditional manufacturing employment up here in the South Pennine hills. Here's what it looked like.



The reason the site was cleared was because its owners had applied for and obtained planning permission for housing. This permission wasn't obtained in the teeth of NIMBY opposition but was welcomed as a good use of a site that wasn't going back to being a textile mill any time soon. One other thing - the mill (and subsequently the cleared site) are wholly in Bradford's precious 'Green Belt'. The problem is that Bradford's sluggish development market, the location and the site's size meant that the housing permission didn't get developed. Like a lot of undeveloped planning permissions in these sorts of place, this is about viability and demand rather than the evils of 'landbanking'.

Zooming forwards in time we get to the stage where a developer is now interested in the site to build forty or so affordable homes for rent and shared ownership. Just the sort of development that we're told we desperately need in a place where there isn't (unless I'm very mistaken) going to be any but the mildest of local objection. But there's a problem. The planning permission has expired and the now cleared site is in that precious 'Green Belt'. So the initial planning response goes like this:
The site is previously developed land; however the existing development is a cleared site (albeit with some relic structures including a hardstanding and parts of walls). Now that the old mill has been demolished any new houses on the site would have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt and the purpose of including land within it than the existing development.
I'm not criticising the planner who wrote this - he is just presenting what the rules say. As a cleared site in the 'Green Belt' you can't build on it without very special circumstances - but:
Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations. This is a very high bar to pass and it does not seem plausible that it could be passed in relation to the proposed development/ site.
We've a housing shortage (or so we're told all the time). We're urged to use previously-developed ('brownfield') sites rather than undeveloped ('greenfield') sites. And we hold a special love for affordable housing. Yet an unloved, unattractive site on the main A629 from Keighley to Denholme can't be developed despite ten years ago having a huge stone mill on it.

This may all get sorted out (we get to occult planning things like 'five year land supply' and 'SHLAA' considerations as well as the emerging local plan 'Allocations Development Plan Document') but it does remind us that our planning system is, at times, utterly and completely stupid.

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