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City wins battle over grant of planning permission and whether site should have been treated as in Green Belt

City of York Council was entitled to treat a site as not in its Green Belt even though it was located in an “indicative doughnut ring” in its policies, a Planning Court judge has ruled.

Local resident Christopher Wedgewood had challenged the council’s decision to grant planning permission for two extensions to a neurological rehabilitation centre.

Mr Wedgewood argued that the site should have been treated as Green Belt, in which case the presumption in favour of sustainable development would not have applied.

He also said he had a legitimate expectation that the council would treat the site as Green Belt and that York failed to give sufficient reasons for departing from an applicable development plan.

York’s Green Belt has not been fixed with detailed boundaries because the city for historical reasons has no formally adopted local plan.

A regional spatial strategy issue in 2008 said the outer boundaries of the Green Belt should be about six miles from York city centre and the inner boundary in line with a policy to safeguard the centre’s historic character. It did not though specify either.

Rejecting Mr Wedgewood’s case, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith said in Wedgewood v City of York Council [2020] EWHC 780 (Admin): “The policies do not state or imply that every piece of land within the doughnut ring that is bounded by the inner and outer boundaries shall be Green Belt; nor do they say anything about whether all or some pieces of land within the doughnut ring shall not be Green Belt.”

He said it was “plain beyond reasonable argument that the detailed boundaries of the Green Belt around York have not been defined.”

Mr Wedgewood had argued that all the land was Green Belt unless specifically removed. while York said it would be “absurd in practice to treat all land within the indicative doughnut ring as Green Belt” and it was obvious that much of this had none of the characteristics associated with Green Belt.

The judge said the case raised “a question that is novel and difficult for the court” of whether a high-level strategic plan was sufficient to define Green Belt land.

“If it is held that more is required in order to create the Green Belt…then York has no Green Belt land unless and until a further plan…defines the detail of its scope,” he said.

“On the other hand, if it is held that a high-level strategic plan converts everything to which it refers into Green Belt, the restrictions which that would impose on developing land that has none of the characteristics normally associated with Green Belt land would be unsatisfactory from a number of different perspectives.”

The judge said the solution was that York must apply the high-level policy rationally to determine which sites should be treated as Green Belt.

“I conclude that the approach as evidenced by the officer's report was legally correct and involved making a planning judgement about the status of the site that were rational and permissible,” he said.

He dismissed also Mr Wedgewood’s point about legitimate expectation noting “no such promise can be found in the materials before the court”.

Mark Smulian

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