Planning permission had historically been granted to build a the stables in the Green Belt, but at the time of the appeal were disused.
The Council and Planning Inspector agreed the proposed conversion of the stables was considered to fall under the provisions of Paragraph 90 of the National Planning Policy Framework (the Framework) which states that the reuse of buildings with the Green Belt is not inappropriate development provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction. The existing stables are of a permanent and substantial construction, and the reasons for refusal refer to concerns other than the development’s location within the Green Belt. Accordingly, the Planning Inspector concluded that neither inappropriate development types nor loss of openness in the Green Belt needed to be addressed.
In addition, the Council in its Planning Officer's report indicated that there was a 'fall-back' scheme, as the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended) (GDPO) grants planning permission for certain classes of development. Class Q deals with the conversion of agricultural buildings to residential use and is conditional on a Prior Approval procedure being followed. The permitted development right for Class Q does not apply a test in relation to sustainability of location, and when considering whether a change of use is appropriate in a particular location, the location is not a sufficient reason for refusing Prior Approval applications, only as to whether the change to residential use would be impractical or undesirable. In this instance, the Planning Inspector considered the fall-back scheme to be a realistic alternative to this appeal.
The main issue in dispute was whether the appeal site is a suitable location for the change of use proposed, having regard to the proximity of public transport connections.
The Council’s concern relates to the distance of the stables from public transport, and Policy 5 of the Local Plan states that minor development should achieve low accessibility to public transport, ie. be within a distance of approximately 400 metres of a bus route. The stables are approximately 800 metres from the nearest bus stop and as such, the Council considers the development to be in an unsustainable location.
The Planning Inspector was mindful of the Council's accessibility objectives. However, the stable block forms part of an existing cluster of dwellings and its conversion would be an effective use of land as required by Paragraph 17 of the Framework. This supports the conversion of existing buildings and effective use of land, provided that the land is not of high environmental value. Furthermore, the development would be a modest two bedroomed dwelling, and the harm attributable to undue reliance on the private car would be limited.
Paragraph 55 of the Framework recognises that housing in rural areas can enhance and maintain the vitality of rural communities. It states that local planning authorities should avoid new isolated homes in the countryside unless there are special circumstances including the re-use of redundant or disused buildings, which would also lead to an enhancement of the immediate setting. This development would comprise the re-use of a redundant building and as the area immediately surrounding it is somewhat unkempt. The Inspector considered there would be some enhancement of its setting. In addition, it would contribute to social vitality in this rural community. Consequently, it was considered the development would meet the requirements of Paragraph 55 in this regard and could be considered a special circumstance.
This appeal raises a number of issues:
1. The Council's stance in the Officer's report on 'fall-back position' was a material consideration, whether such a view was accurate;
2. Conversion of a stable building is an effective use of land as required by paragraph 17 of the NPPF;
3. In terms of paragraph 55 the proposal would re-use of a redundant building and enhance its setting. It would also contribute to social vitality in this rural setting. The requirements of paragraph 55 would be a special circumstance.