On 19 November 2013, the Planning Inspectorate allowed an appeal by the operator of a waste transfer station and granted planning permission for the change of use of land for the purposes of extending a waste transfer station in the Green Belt. The decision provides retrospective permission to allow the appeal site to be used for sorting and storage of waste connected to the operations conducted at the existing waste facility.

The application for permission was first made by the appellant, BSP (Knockholt) Ltd, in November 2012. The application was rejected by the local authority, the Council of the London Borough of Bromley, in March 2013 on the grounds that it constituted inappropriate development in the Green Belt and would have a negative impact on local residents.

Following this refusal, an appeal was lodged by the appellant under powers contained in s.78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The appeal was heard by the Planning Inspector, who held a site visit on 25 September 2013 and a hearing on 24 and 25 September 2013 before issuing her decision to overturn the council’s refusal and to grant planning permission.

Main issues

In finding in favour of the appellant, the Inspector identified four main issues, as follows.

  1. Whether the proposed development constituted inappropriate development under Green Belt planning policies.

  2. Whether the appeal proposal would have a negative impact on the character and appearance of the surrounding area.

  3. Whether the development would have a negative impact on the amenity of local residents.

  4. If the development did amount to inappropriate development in the Green Belt, whether there were any mitigating factors that would justify granting planning permission irrespective of this finding.

Background issues

Before turning to consider the main issues, the Inspector first noted that the application before her had previously been the subject of two previous planning applications and appeals in 2002 and 2006 (the 2002 Appeal and the 2006 Appeal, respectively). Although both of these had been determined against the appellant, the Inspector noted that a number of factors had changed since then, particularly with regard to the relevant planning policies.

Among the planning policy changes were the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF), a new London Plan 2011 and amendments to Planning Policy Statement 10: Planning for Sustainable Waste Management (PPS10). It was the appellant’s submission that these policy changes significantly altered the manner in which the previous appeals had been determined and how any new application should be decided. The Inspector therefore stated that, while the previous appeal decisions would be a material consideration to take into account, the current application would have to be judged against the new planning policy landscape.

Issue 1: inappropriate development

In beginning her review of this issue, the Inspector stated that the key planning policy for such applications is the local development plan, this being the Bromley Unitary Development Plan 2006 (as amended) (the UDP). This follows the position adopted in Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green Belts (PPG2) (now revoked and replaced by the NPPF) that developments in the Green Belt should be considered inappropriate unless they maintain openness and support the key objective of retaining land within the Green Belt.

The Inspector acknowledged that this test had been applied in the 2006 Appeal, with the 2006 inspector finding that the development would be inappropriate as it would be out of keeping with its Green Belt location. However, the Inspector stated that, in her view, the proper test to apply when considering the impact on openness in the Green Belt is to compare its likely effects against the impact that a lawful use of the site would have on openness.

In responding to this, the council submitted that the most likely lawful use of the appeal site would be as a railway yard. This followed on from the view taken by the inspector in the 2006 Appeal that the site could at some point revert to being used for railway purposes in connection with the nearby railway station.

However, looking at the history of the previous appeals in relation to the waste transfer station as a whole, the Inspector stated that the appropriate lawful use for comparison purposes was use of the land for storage purposes.

Applying this to the facts of the case, the Inspector noted that the site visit had revealed that there were no buildings or other permanent structures on the appeal site to impose on the current landscape. The appellant had submitted that there were no plans to alter this, which could be ensured through the imposition of an appropriate planning condition preventing the construction of any structures on site.

On the basis of a comparison against a lawful storage use, the Inspector stated that there was no evidence before her to show that the appeal proposal would have any greater or more negative impact on the Green Belt, its openness or the policy of including land in the Green Belt than a lawful storage use would.

Thus, the Inspector held that the new development was not inappropriate development for the purposes of the UDP. However, having come to this conclusion, she then turned to consider the provisions of the NPPF dealing with developments in the Green Belt. In doing so, she noted that the wording of PPG2 found in the UDP had not been replicated in the NPPF when it revoked PPG2. The change of use of land is no longer listed as one of the forms of development in the Green Belt that is not automatically considered to be inappropriate development.

This difference between the NPPF and the UDP meant that there was a clear inconsistency of approach between the two main planning policies governing the appeal development. In attempting to resolve this, the Inspector stated that, although the UDP was the main starting point for developments in the area, the NPPF had been more recently adopted and was to be given substantial weight.

In particular, the fact that the NPPF had been more recently adopted meant that it was a more up-to-date reflection of the legislator’s approach to planning policy in the Green Belt than the UDP, which had been adopted in 2006. Any inconsistency between the two should therefore be resolved in favour of the approach taken in the NPPF.

Thus the Inspector held that the appeal proposal did amount to inappropriate development in accordance with the terms of the NPPF and found against the appellant on this issue.

Issue 2: character and appearance

The appeal site is adjacent to the existing waste transfer station on its eastern side and is bordered by Knockholt train station to the north, a woodland area to the south and the railway line to the west. It was agreed by the parties that this was the same surroundings as had been the case when the 2006 Appeal was decided.

In considering this issue, the Inspector referred to the 2006 Appeal, where the inspector had concluded that the presence of the waste transfer station was out of place in the surrounding rural area. However, the 2006 inspector had stated that the use of the appeal site as a railway goods yard would not be out of place, given that it would be used in connection with the existing railway station.

While the Inspector accepted that there was some merit to this general proposition, she also emphasised that the appeal site had to be viewed in light of the specific facts of the case. Weight had to be given to the fact that permission had been granted for the use of the existing site as a waste transfer station and that this had been operational for a number of years. Considered in this way, the use of the appeal site for storage of materials and machinery relating to the waste transfer station would not be unexpected nor out of place.

On the premise that the lawful use for the appeal site would be a storage use, the Inspector concluded that the use of the appeal site in connection with the waste transfer station would not cause any significant harm to the character and appearance of the area. Again, any possible impact could be controlled through the imposition of appropriate planning conditions.

The Inspector therefore found in favour of the appellant on this issue.

Issue 3: residential amenity

In considering the impact on local residents, the Inspector noted that this had previously been considered under the earlier appeals in relation to the impact of the existing waste transfer station. The earlier appeals had concluded that there would not be an unacceptable impact on local residents (the nearest of whom lived nearly 200 metres from the site) as a result of noise, dust or general disturbance.

In the context of the current appeal, the Inspector emphasised that the appeal site lay on the other side of the waste transfer station from the residential housing and was therefore further away from it. It would therefore appear that use of the appeal site as part of the waste transfer station would not cause any significant harm to residential amenity.

However, the local authority argued that there were concerns that the use of the appeal site may result in an intensification of use and an increase in potential sources of nuisance as well as an increase of traffic flows.

In assessing this argument, the Inspector acknowledged that vehicles visiting the appeal site would use the same route as those visiting the existing waste facility and that this would take them past the residential properties and also the railway station. Although the planning permission for the waste facility contains restrictions on traffic movements, the results of the traffic survey commissioned by the appellant highlighted that these had been occasionally breached. These breaches suggested that any increase in traffic could have an impact on both traffic congestion and highway safety.

However, the appellant argued that the use of the appeal site would not result in an intensification of waste operations as the site would only be used for storage purposes and not for further waste treatment activities. Furthermore, the amount of waste treated at the site is already limited under the terms of its environmental permit, which prevents an increase in intensification of use. On this basis, the appellant argued that it was unlikely that there would be any significant increase in traffic volumes as compared with the current levels visiting the waste transfer station.

In considering the appellant’s arguments, the Inspector agreed that the use of the site for storage purposes would not of itself result in an intensification of the waste activities. Furthermore, as the appellant had argued, the terms of the environmental permit already contained an adequate restriction on waste capacity, which would prevent any further increase in the volume of waste handled.

While the Inspector accepted that the breaches of the traffic conditions could have a negative effect on residents, she also noted that these had been occasional and that future compliance could be monitored relatively easily by the council. The appellant had also accepted its fault for these breaches and had confirmed its determination to comply with the restrictions on traffic movements more fully in future.

The Inspector therefore held that the appeal proposal would not have an unacceptable impact on residential amenity and found in favour of the appellant on this issue.

Issue 4: very special circumstances

Despite having found in favour of the appellant on issues 2 and 3, the Inspector emphasised that the finding that the appeal proposal amounted to inappropriate development meant that the appellant needed to show that sufficient special circumstances existed to justify granting planning permission.

In this context, the Inspector stated that under the terms of the NPPF, the finding that a development is inappropriate gives rise to the conclusion that the development is by its nature harmful. The appellant therefore needed to show that the proposal would have benefits or meet identifiable needs to show that this harm could be overridden.

In considering this, the appellant drew attention to a number of other planning policies to support its position. Among these was PPS10, which states that locational needs for waste management facilities and their environmental and economic benefits have to be taken into account when deciding whether to approve a new development in the Green Belt.

While this was considered in the 2006 Appeal, the Inspector noted that this was based on the terms of the UDP, which had just been adopted. The UDP was now seven years old and somewhat outdated in relation to the waste management needs of the region. By contrast, both the London Plan 2011 and the Mayor’s Municipal Waste Management Strategy 2011 had been adopted more recently, and both emphasised the need for extra capacity for waste transfer facilities specialising in municipal, commercial, and construction and demolition waste.

Furthermore, the terms of the South East London Waste Technical Paper 2011 identify a need for extra capacity for commercial and industrial waste in the borough. The Inspector agreed with the appellant that, while the appeal site would not provide extra capacity, it would help the existing waste facility to operate more efficiently and push waste up the waste hierarchy. The use of the appeal site would also be in compliance with PPS10, which promotes the reuse of previously developed land.

In the Inspector’s view, this factor, combined with the likely efficiency improvements, meant that significant weight should be given to the locational need for the appeal proposal within the borough.

In light of this analysis, the Inspector held that there were a number of factors that supported the appeal proposal and that, taken as a whole, provided sufficient benefits to meet the high threshold required to overcome the harm identified by the NPPF.

Conclusion

Having found in favour of the appellant on issues 2 and 3 and having determined that sufficient justification existed to override the finding of harm identified under issue 1, the Inspector proceeded to grant planning permission subject to a number of planning conditions. These included conditions on operating hours, the number of vehicle movements to the extended waste facility, restrictions on the use of the appeal site for storage purposes only and an obligation to improve site drainage.

Last reviewed 4 February 2014