Planning Consultant - Chris Scott
Hi, I’m Chris,
I hold an MA in Planning and work as a Planning Consultant

If your property is located within the Green Belt you may have a tough planning test to pass. To secure permission on householder and full planning applications it is sometimes necessary to demonstrate very special circumstances. The question is, “what are Green Belt very special circumstances?”

Green Belt Very Special Circumstances
Proposals which are regarded as inappropriate development in the Green Belt need to demonstrate very special circumstances to secure approval.

When does a Proposal located in the Green Belt need to demonstrate Very Special Circumstances?

I’m not going to go into detail about what and where the Green Belt is with this post, I’ve covered that previously. But briefly, the key aim of the Green Belt is to protect the area from urban sprawl and maintain openness. Proposals which do not fall under the exemption criteria as stated in the NPPF will be considered ‘inappropriate development’. For instance, new buildings are typically considered inappropriate development in the Green Belt. This is where there will be a need to demonstrate very special circumstances in order to secure approval for proposals. More specifically, the NPPF states:

“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.” NPPF (144)

Therefore, very special circumstances have to carry significant benefits to overcome the fact that the development is by default inappropriate.

What might be Considered to be Very Special Circumstances?

It will probably not surprise you for me to state this. There are no set definitions of what constitutes a very special circumstance. Each proposal will be judged by the local authority and Planning Inspectorate on its own merits. The weight in the planning balance given to each consideration is a matter of judgement for the decision maker. Therefore, there is a lot of individual interpretation of what material considerations carry weight as a very special circumstance.

Single or Multiple Very Special Circumstances?

It is worth noting, there can be multiple factors which form very special circumstances. Instead of putting all your eggs into one basket, it may be possible to demonstrate multiple benefits. Collectively they may carry sufficient weight as a very special circumstance to secure approval.

Local Planning Authorities (LPA) approach determinations for planning applications located in the Green Belt on the Wednesbury Principles. The Wednesbury Principles is based on a legal case from 1948. To make a public authority act ‘reasonably’ in their determination of a decision.

Following the Wednesbury Process

First, the LPA will consider if a single material consideration on its own is sufficient to be considered a very special circumstance and outweigh the harm to the Green Belt. Secondly, they will consider if there are other material considerations collectively which can outweigh the harm. While none of the individual factors on their own may be considered ‘special’, collectively they can potentially be regarded as very special circumstances.

Green Belt around Stoke-on-Trent
Map of the Green Belt around Stoke-on-Trent – cpre.org.uk

Examples of Potential Very Special Circumstances

As my work is focused on small scale and householder proposals I’ll provide examples which are relevant to those applications. Please remember, these are just potential very special circumstances. There are no set rules of what will be sufficient to receive approval.

Permitted Development Rights

When it comes to permitted development rules (PD) there are no separate conditions for properties located in the Green Belt. For this example, lets set the scene. Let’s presume the owner of the property wants to complete an extension. The extension does not fall under PD and is located in the Green Belt. Let’s also presume the property still holds its PD rights.

PD rights can be a material consideration and a potential very special circumstance as a ‘fall back’ position. The fallback position is development the applicant could legally carry out without planning permission. For instance, now the larger home rear extension PD right has been made permanent, this can be a powerful tool.

Essentially, the potential PD rights need to be effectively demonstrated. This will often mean securing prior approval for the larger home rear extension or securing a lawful development certificate for proposed works. These can then be used as evidence as a potential fall back position and very special circumstance. Without this evidence, PD rights as a fallback position, even if they exist may not be considered as a very special circumstance for properties in the Green Belt. It is worth noting, that if the planning application is approved a condition will likely be attached to remove relevant PD rights.

Public Benefits

One of the key purposes of the planning system is to support the public good. Therefore if it can be adequately demonstrated that the proposals will have public benefits, they could also potentially be considered very special circumstances.

For instance, do the proposals relate to a community facility, support local employment or help to improve the sustainability of local tourism? The weight which will be given to these benefits is specific to the proposal. Furthermore, so is the potential harm to the Green Belt. For instance, a new structure in a very prominent and open location would have to have very significant public benefits to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt.

Green Belt Map SMDC
You can find out if your property is located in the Green Belt using the interactive planning maps on your local authorities website – SMDC

Design and Sustainability

The amended NPPF in 2018 placed greater weight on good design in the decision-making process. For instance:

“131. In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings”. NPPF (131)

Now, design on its own is generally not going to be sufficient to form a very special circumstance if there is deemed to be significant harm to the Green Belt. For instance, if the proposals are deemed to be significant in scale and in a very prominent/open location. However, if the harm to the Green Belt is deemed to be moderate or less its potentially possible that a high-quality design using sustainable principles and technologies could change the balance from refusal to approval.

Renewable Energy Projects

When it comes to solar and onshore wind projects in the UK there has been a shift in the planning balance exercise over the last decade. With regards to renewable energy projects in the Green Belt and very special circumstances, the NPPF states the following:

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. NPPF (147)

So, the production of energy from renewable sources may be considered as a very special circumstance. When it comes to onshore wind power before 2015 renewable energy generation was often cited as a sufficient very special circumstance to receive approval. However, after the 2015 WMS, Planning Policy Guidance now states to secure approval:

“planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.” PPG

Therefore, even if the impact on the openness of the Green Belt of an onshore turbine was deemed to be outweighed by the benefits of renewable energy generation, it would still need to receive the backing of the local community. With solar projects, there can frequently be issues with their prominence in the landscape and impact on Green Belt openness.

Conclusions on Very Special Circumstances and the Green Belt

In conclusion, examples of very special circumstances can include existing permitted development rights, a high-quality design, public benefits or energy from renewable sources. It’s important to remember that a collection of factors together while not ‘special’ on their own can combine to constitute very special circumstances.

However, its also highly dependant on the perceived harm to the Green Belt from the proposals. But an improved design, for instance, can simultaneously reduce the harm to the Green Belt and constitute a benefit of the scheme as a very special circumstance.

If you have a property located in the Green Belt and you need to demonstrate very special circumstances to secure approval please get in touch. I’ll review your proposals a make suggestions on what features could be changed or emphasised as a very special circumstance to try and secure approval.