Central Bedfordshire Draft Local Plan (July 2017)

Ended on the 29th August 2017
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(60) 9 Green Belt, Coalescence and Settlements

(3) 9.1 Introduction to Green Belt

9.1.1 Formally adopted in 1980, the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt extends across much of the south and covers approximately 40% of the total Plan area. It continues to serve its purposes very well, safeguarding the identity of Central Bedfordshire by maintaining the openness of the countryside, preventing the coalescence of Luton, Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Leighton Buzzard, Ampthill and Flitwick, and protecting the dispersed settlement pattern characteristic of the area. The Council is committed to ensuring that the Green Belt continues to perform well into the future, continuing to prevent the towns from coalescing and retaining its key characteristics of openness and permanence.

(17) 9.2 Green Belt and Sustainable Development – Exceptional Circumstances for small scale release of Green Belt Land

9.2.1 Nonetheless, Green Belt must be considered in the context of the wider objectives of the Local Plan and the pursuit of sustainable development. The overall purpose of this Local Plan is to meet Central Bedfordshire's objectively assessed development needs sustainably.

9.2.2 The evidence underlying the Local Plan highlights the clear need for a substantial growth in housing within the Plan area. As discussed elsewhere in this Plan the Council has also made an allowance for unmet need arising from the Luton Borough Council administrative area. In assessing spatial options to meet these development needs the Council has been guided by the principle of creating 'sustainable patterns of development' as set out in NPPF paragraph 84, and has considered a range of alternatives which do not impinge upon Green Belt. This has included consideration of whether development could be met in full beyond the Green Belt; within existing urban areas; and on brownfield sites or underused public sector land etc.

9.2.3 However, evidence produced in support of this Plan, notably the Growth Options Studies, Urban Capacity Study, the Sustainability Appraisal, the Site Assessment Technical Document and brownfield register, suggests that whilst some development can take place beyond the Green Belt and within the existing urban areas, the total amount of land available is well below that needed to meet the requirements of the Plan.

9.2.4 Evidence produced in support of this Plan demonstrates that locating all growth beyond the Green Belt would have serious consequences for the sustainability of settlements both within and outside the Green Belt. For example overdevelopment in the north of Central Bedfordshire threatens the character and identity of existing communities, and risks putting excessive pressure on existing services and facilities, and harming habitats and landscape which surround them. In addition large areas of north Central Bedfordshire lack transport infrastructure and there is limited east/west connectivity and sustainable transport. Conversely our Green Belt settlements have seen very limited development in the past due to the presence of Green Belt, and it is considered that some growth is needed here in order to maintain their sustainability and ensure continued provision of services and facilities.

9.2.5 This Plan commits to delivering Luton's current identified 'unmet need' within Central Bedfordshire as close to the Luton conurbation as possible. Luton cannot accommodate all of its own housing need within its administrative area because its boundaries are tightly drawn and so there are limited opportunities for outward expansion. Urban capacity evidence has demonstrated that they have explored opportunities for growth within the built up area too. Consultation and evidence prepared to inform this Local Plan told us that growth in the south was supported because of the proximity to key services in the urban centres of Dunstable, Houghton Regis and Luton. Evidence also supports a more modest Green Belt release around Large Villages that are inset in the Green Belt, have a good level of local services and where sites are available that did not impact on the openness of the Green Belt.

9.2.6 Whilst we have considered ways in which we can maximise the sustainable development sites beyond the Green Belt, including through site layout and optimising densities, nevertheless, given the scale of growth it will be necessary for some limited release of land from the Green Belt in order to ensure the delivery of balanced sustainable growth across Central Bedfordshire as a whole. These are the 'exceptional circumstances' which the Council believe justify the limited release of some Green Belt land.

(19) 9.3 Green Belt release

9.3.1 In order to accommodate the growth required up to 2035 in a sustainable and controlled manner, sustainable growth location options in Green Belt have been identified as listed in Policy SP1. Green Belt release will be guided by the principle of creating 'sustainable patterns of development' as per NPPF paragraph 84. This means that we will identify the most sustainable locations for development, unless this is outweighed by effect on the overall integrity and performance of the wider Green Belt. This work will be guided by the Central Bedfordshire and Luton Green Belt Study (November 2016), and a future Stage 3 Green Belt Study for Central Bedfordshire to help us determine which Green Belt land could be released for development. This work will inform our identification of preferred sites in the next version of this Plan. Where sites are allocated, the Green Belt boundaries will be redrawn around them and other committed sites; Land North of Houghton Regis and Land East of Leighton Buzzard.

(7) 9.4 Improvements to Green Belt land

9.4.1 In addition to its role in preventing coalescence and urban sprawl etc, Green Belt land can also have a positive role to play in terms of environmental quality and access. It may, for example, provide access to open countryside and opportunities for quiet recreation and sport. Green Belt can also help retain valued landscapes and protect biodiversity and it provides many possibilities to protect and improve green infrastructure, especially in urban fringe locations. The Council is committed to improving the environmental quality and accessibility of its Green Belt, and will favourably consider development proposals that will actively improve the character and quality of our Green Belt. At the same time we are also considering whether there is any justification for extending the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt, and if so where. Again this will be informed by the identification of our preferred sites as well as the spatial strategies of surrounding Local Plans.

(28) 9.5 Development in the Green Belt

9.5.1 Where Green Belt is retained, there is a general presumption against inappropriate development within the Green Belt. Inappropriate development[11] is defined as any development harmful to the Green Belt and should not be granted consent except in very special circumstances.  Within the Green Belt the need to protect the character and openness of the landscape is a primary consideration and any development will be expected to maintain the character of the Green Belt and not undermine the reasons for including land within it. High standards of design and careful siting will therefore be essential for any development proposals. Planning permission for inappropriate development will only be granted where demonstrable, very special circumstances which outweigh the harm to the Green Belt can be demonstrated.

9.5.2 Planning permission for inappropriate development will only be granted where demonstrable, very special circumstances which outweigh the harm to the Green Belt can be demonstrated. These will be determined by the Council on a case-b-case basis, but may include proposals which have clear community support as demonstrated via inclusion in an adopted Neighbourhood Plan. "Very special circumstances" will normally exclude in isolation both housing needs, including for gypsy and traveller sites, and personal circumstances as per the NPPG.

(8) 9.6 Development within Green Belt Settlements

9.6.1 Green Belt settlements fall into three categories:

  • 'inset';
  • 'washed over'; and
  • 'washed-over containing infill only boundaries'.

    9.6.2 'Inset' Green Belt settlements are excluded from the Green Belt and are defined by a settlement envelope. This means that within these settlements normal planning policy applies. The remaining settlements are either completely 'washed over' by the Green Belt designation or have a defined 'infill only' boundary meaning that whilst some of the settlement is 'washed over', the remainder is considered suitable for appropriate infill development.

    9.6.3 Infill development can generally be defined as small-scale development for up to two dwellings in a small gap in an otherwise built up frontage, utilising a plot in a manner which should continue to complement the surrounding pattern and grain of development. There should be no adverse impact on the setting of the site, the character of the area, and surrounding properties and uses. High quality design principles will be applied and further detail is given in the Central Bedfordshire Design Guide.

    9.6.4 Infill development of more than 2 dwellings will rarely be acceptable and only in circumstances where the developer can clearly demonstrate that such a development would be wholly in accordance with the surrounding character, pattern and grain of development, having regard to plot size, frontage length and dwelling size; and that the development would have an acceptable impact on the open character of the site and its immediate surroundings and the village within which the site is located.

      (16) 9.7 Affordable housing in the Green Belt

      9.7.1 Within the Green Belt, as elsewhere in the area, there is a shortage of affordable housing. This can have a disproportionate effect on rural communities as many young people and families cannot afford to stay because decent homes are either too expensive or simply unavailable. This, in turn, can lead to a fall-off in demand for local services such as schools and public transport and the disappearance of local jobs, shops and public houses. Ultimately, some places risk becoming dormitory settlements with very little sense of community life. The supply of affordable housing is therefore seen as important, not just in order to provide homes for those in greatest need, but to help keep balanced communities. There is a need for affordable housing in the Green Belt settlements and the Council will consider favourably the provision of affordable housing on rural exception sites in the Green Belt.

      (30) Policy SP3: Development in the Green Belt

      The Council will work proactively with developers, and landowners to enhance the beneficial uses of the Green Belt.

      Within the Green Belt there is a general presumption against inappropriate development. Inappropriate development proposals within the Green Belt will be assessed in accordance with government guidance contained in the NPPF and NPPG.

      "Very special circumstances" justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt will be determined by the Council on a case-by-case basis.

      Where "very special circumstances" exist, applicants will be required to contribute to improvements to the environmental quality and/or accessibility of surrounding Green Belt land commensurate to the size of the proposal (for example by improving damaged and derelict land, improving access, visual amenity and biodiversity), either directly or via financial contributions.

      Replacement of buildings will be permitted provided that the building is in the same use, is not materially larger, and does not have a greater impact on the openness and rural character of the Green Belt than the existing development.

      The Council will only consider infill development acceptable in principle within this Plan's defined Green Belt infill only boundaries of settlements. Particular attention will be paid to assessing the quality of development proposed and the likely impact on the character of the settlement and its surroundings.

      (53) 9.8 Coalescence

      9.8.1 The Council seeks to preserve the separate identities of neighbouring settlements or communities. The Council will resist development that would compromise the open character of the countryside between settlements, especially where the gaps between them are already relatively limited. It is acknowledged that in some cases, whilst neighbouring communities may still have separate characters or identities, the built-up areas of those settlements are already linked as in the case of Clifton and Shefford. The Council will resist new development that would result in further growth in these areas that would harm the separate character or identity of the communities.

      9.8.2 In addition to the general control of coalescence, there is a need for more specific protection in locations that are or will be experiencing the strongest pressures for development. These pressures will be evident in around certain of the strategic growth locations identified in this plan, particularly potential new settlement proposals on the A1 corridor and in the Marston Vale. 

      (33) Policy SP4: Coalescence

      Other than for specific proposals and land allocations in the Local Plan, new development in the countryside must avoid reducing open land that contributes to the form and character of existing settlements.

      In considering applications for development the Council will have regard to maintaining the individual identity of towns and villages and will resist any extensions to built-up areas that might lead to coalescence between settlements.

      (26) 9.9 Important Countryside Gaps & New Green Belt 

      9.9.1 In acknowledging increasing pressures for development appropriate to the countryside, the Council is conscious of the relatively sensitive and narrow gaps of undeveloped countryside lying between some of the authority area's settlements outside of Green Belt.  It is considered essential that the open nature of countryside in these gaps is maintained in order to retain the character of these settlements and prevent the potential loss of their individual identity.

      9.9.2 Whilst other policies in this Local Plan seek to prevent inappropriate development in the countryside generally and in Green Belt, it is considered that in some instances, the sensitivity of the countryside gaps identified outside of Green Belt is such that built development, which may otherwise be appropriate to a rural area, might also be damaging to the separate identity of those settlements.

      9.9.3 Within the areas defined as 'Important Countryside Gaps' the Council will apply the following policy and may also in the pre-submission version of the plan, consider Green Belt extensions where there are proven exceptional circumstances which cannot adequately be addressed by other forms of protection e.g. development management policies. It is expected that it will be necessary to propose new Green Belt around Aspley Guise to prevent the coalescence of new settlement scale proposals with existing settlements.

      (38) Policy SP5: Important Countryside Gaps

      Important Countryside Gaps will be defined on the proposals map that accompanies the pre-submission version of the Plan. The Council will not grant permission for unallocated development that would promote the visual or physical coalescence of nearby settlements.

      [11] Exceptions to the presumption are set out in NPPF paragraph 89 which includes the redevelopment of brownfield land.

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