STATEMENT RE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAND ADJACENT TO BROOKFIELD WALK, CLEVEDON
Let me begin by clarifying that this is not an issue about the expansion of Baytree school. This is a superb school whose staff carry out incredible work with some of our most vulnerable children. They need to have expanded provision and North Somerset Council should see this as a priority.
This planning application is, however, about the Green Belt and its wider implications. The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts including the function of safeguarding the countryside from encroachment, one of the five defined purposes. In an era when we are, quite rightly, becoming more aware of environmental issues, the protection of the Green Belt has risen up the agenda. It is not a case of “nimbyism” by local residents. If we lose these sites the whole community is impoverished. We should not regard these beautiful spaces as ours to give away but should see our duty as protecting them for future generations.
Building upon this area of Green Belt in Clevedon could also set an unwelcome precedent for areas such as Long Ashton and Portishead where the Green Belt is also under threat.
The appropriate permissions and restrictions affecting Green Belt development are set out in paragraphs 143 to 147 of the National Planning Policy Framework.
Proposals affecting the Green Belt
143. Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.
144. When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.
145. A local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt. Exceptions to this are:
(a) buildings for agriculture and forestry;
(b) the provision of appropriate facilities (in connection with the existing use of land or a change of use) for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation, cemeteries and burial grounds and allotments; as long as the facilities preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it;
(c) the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building;
(d) the replacement of a building, provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger than the one it replaces;
(e) limited infilling in villages;
(f) limited affordable housing for local community needs under policies set out in the development plan (including policies for rural exception sites); and
(g) limited infilling or the partial or complete redevelopment of previously developed land, whether redundant or in continuing use (excluding temporary buildings), which would:
- not have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt than the existing development; or
- not cause substantial harm to the openness of the Green Belt, where the development would re-use previously developed land and contribute to meeting an identified affordable housing need within the area of the local planning authority.
146. Certain other forms of development are also not inappropriate in the Green Belt provided they preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it. These are:
(a) mineral extraction;
(b) engineering operations;
(c) local transport infrastructure which can demonstrate a requirement for a Green Belt location;
(d) the re-use of buildings provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction;
(e) material changes in the use of land (such as changes of use for outdoor sport or recreation, or for cemeteries and burial grounds); and
(f) development brought forward under a Community Right to Build Order or Neighbourhood Development Order.
147. When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.
Two of the sites for the expanded facilities of Baytree school are in Green Belt while eleven of the proposed sites are not. North Somerset Council appear to argue that ownership of the land is a reason to build on Green Belt sites as the costs would be lower. This financial consideration is not one of the exceptions set out in National Planning Policy.
The expansion of Baytree school is a matter of urgency and elected representatives at all levels should work together to explore potential sites outside the Green Belt, including potential funding for the purchase of any necessary land. I would be very happy to work with the local authority and the school representatives to do this.
The proposed building on the Green Belt at Brookfield Way, however, does not conform with National Planning guidelines and this specific option should be rejected. It would be a pity to waste further time and resources, on top of the £1 million already spent, on an option that is clearly in breach of guidelines. Alternative options need to be properly evaluated without delay.