R (Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster)) v North Yorkshire County Council

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtSupreme Court
JudgeLord Sales,Lord Carnwath,Lady Hale,Lord Kitchin,Lord Hodge
Judgment Date05 Feb 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] UKSC 3

[2020] UKSC 3

Supreme Court

Hilary Term

On appeal from: [2018] EWCA Civ 489

before

Lady Hale

Lord Carnwath

Lord Hodge

Lord Kitchin

Lord Sales

R (on the application of Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) and others)
(Respondents)
and
North Yorkshire County Council
(Appellant)

Appellant

Daniel Kolinsky QC

Hannah Gibbs

(Instructed by North Yorkshire County Council Legal Services)

Respondents (1 and 2)

Peter Village QC

James Strachan QC

Ned Helme

Ruth Keating

(Instructed by Pinsent Masons LLP (Leeds))

Respondent (3)

Alison Ogley

(Instructed by Walker Morris LLP)

Respondents:-

(1) Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster)

(2) Oxton Farm

(3) Darrington Quarries Ltd

Heard on 3 December 2019

Lord Carnwath

( with whom Lady Hale, Lord Hodge, Lord Kitchin and Lord Sales agree)

Introduction
1

The short point in this appeal is whether the appellant county council, as local planning authority, correctly understood the meaning of the word “openness” in the national planning policies applying to mineral working in the Green Belt, as expressed in the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”). The Court of Appeal ([2018] EWCA Civ 489), disagreeing with Hickinbottom J ([2017] EWHC 442 (Admin)) in the High Court, held that, in granting planning permission for the extension of a quarry, the council had been misled by defective advice given by their planning officer. In the words of Lindblom LJ, giving the leading judgment:

“It was defective, at least, in failing to make clear to the members that, under government planning policy for mineral extraction in the Green Belt in para 90 of the NPPF, visual impact was a potentially relevant and potentially significant factor in their approach to the effect of the development on the ‘openness of the Green Belt’, …” (para 49, per Lindblom LJ)

He thought that, having regard to the officer's own assessment, it was “quite obviously relevant”, and therefore a necessary part of the assessment. The court quashed the permission.

2

In this court, the council, supported by the quarry operator (the third respondent), argues that the Court of Appeal's reasoning was based on misunderstandings both of the relevant policies and of the officer's report, and that the permission should be reinstated. The first and second respondents (collectively referred to as “Samuel Smith”) seek to uphold the decision and reasoning of the Court of Appeal.

Green Belt policy
History and aims
3

Although we are directly concerned with the policies in the NPPF (in its original 2012 version), Green Belt policies have a very long history. It can be traced back to the first national guidance on Green Belts in Circular 42/55 (issued in August 1955). More recently Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green Belts (published in 1995 and amended in 2001) (“PPG2”) confirmed the role of Green Belts as “an essential element of planning policy for more than four decades”; and noted that the purposes of Green Belt policies and the related development control policies set out in 1955 “remain valid today with remarkably little alteration” (para 1.1). The NPPF itself, as appears from ministerial statements at the time, was designed to consolidate and simplify policy as expressed in a number of ministerial statements and guidance notes, rather than to effect major policy changes (see Redhill Aerodrome Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2014] EWCA Civ 1386; [2015] PTSR 274, paras 16ff, 22 per Sullivan LJ).

4

In the NPPF the concept of “openness” first appears in the introduction to section 9 (“Protecting Green Belt land”) which gives a statement of the fundamental aim and the purposes of Green Belt policy:

“79. The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence.

80. Green Belt serves five purposes:

• to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;

• to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;

• to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;

• to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and

• to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.”

5

This statement of the “fundamental aim” of the policy and the “five purposes” is unchanged from PPG2. The PPG included a fuller statement of certain “objectives” for the use of land within defined Green Belts, including (for example) providing opportunities for access to open countryside, and retaining and enhancing attractive landscapes (para 1.6), but adding:

“The extent to which the use of land fulfils these objectives is however not itself a material factor in the inclusion of land within a Green Belt, or in its continued protection. For example, although Green Belts often contain areas of attractive landscape, the quality of the landscape is not relevant to the inclusion of land within a Green Belt or to its continued protection. The purposes of including land in Green Belts are of paramount importance to their continued protection, and should take precedence over the land use objectives.” (para 1.7)

It is clear therefore that the visual quality of the landscape is not in itself an essential part of the “openness” for which the Green Belt is protected.

Control of development in Green Belts
6

Key features of development control in Green Belts are the concepts of “appropriate” and “inappropriate” development, and the need in the latter case to show “very special circumstances” to justify the grant of planning permission. In R (Lee Valley Regional Park Authority) v Epping Forest District Council [2016] EWCA Civ 404; [2016] Env LR 30 (“the Lee Valley case”), Lindblom LJ explained their relationship:

“18. A fundamental principle in national policy for the Green Belt, unchanged from PPG2 to the NPPF, is that the construction of new buildings in the Green Belt is ‘inappropriate’ development and should not be approved except in ‘very special circumstances’, unless the proposal is within one of the specified categories of exception in the ‘closed lists’ in paras 89 and 90. … The distinction between development that is ‘inappropriate’ in the Green Belt and development that is not ‘inappropriate’ (ie appropriate) governs the approach a decision-maker must take in determining an application for planning permission. ‘Inappropriate development’ in the Green Belt is development ‘by definition, harmful’ to the Green Belt — harmful because it is there — whereas development in the excepted categories in paras 89 and 90 of the NPPF is not.

7

These concepts are expressly preserved in the policies for the control of development set out in paras 87ff of the NPPF:

“As with previous Green Belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.

… ‘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.” (paras 87–88)

8

Paragraph 89 indicates that construction of new buildings is to be regarded as “inappropriate” with certain defined exceptions. The exceptions include, for example, “buildings for agriculture and forestry”, and (relevant to authorities discussed later in this judgment):

“— provision of appropriate facilities for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation and for cemeteries, as long as it preserves the openness of the Green Belt and does not conflict with the purposes of including land within it;

— limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed sites (brownfield land), whether redundant or in continuing use (excluding temporary buildings), which would not have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt and the purpose of including land within it than the existing development.”

9

Paragraph 90, which defines forms of development regarded as “not inappropriate” is directly in issue in the present case:

“90. Certain other forms of development are also not inappropriate in Green Belt provided they preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land in Green Belt. These are:

  • — mineral extraction;

  • — engineering operations;

  • — local transport infrastructure which can demonstrate a requirement for a Green Belt location;

  • — the re-use of buildings provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction; and

  • — development brought forward under a Community Right to Build Order.” (Emphasis added. I shall refer to the words so emphasised as “the openness proviso”)

10

Paragraphs 89–90 replace a rather fuller statement of policy for “Control of Development” in section 3 of PPG2. Paragraphs 3.4–3.6 (“New buildings”), and paras 3.7–3.12 (“Re-use of buildings”, and, under a separate heading, “Mining operations, and other development”) cover substantially the same ground, respectively, as NPPF paras 89 and 90, but in rather fuller terms. The policy for “Mining operations, and other development” was as follows:

“3.11 Minerals can be worked only where they are found. Their extraction is a temporary activity. Mineral extraction need not be inappropriate development: it need not conflict with the purposes of including land in Green Belts, provided that high environmental standards are maintained and that the site is well restored. Mineral and local planning authorities should include appropriate policies in their development plans. Mineral planning authorities should ensure that planning conditions for mineral working sites within Green Belts achieve suitable environmental standards and restoration …

3.12 The statutory definition of development includes engineering and...

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