Humpty Dumpty goes to court – or when is a garden (not) a brownfield?

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

Broxtowe Borough Council is in the throes of preparing its Local Plan – Part 2.  Not so much a sequel to the Aligned Core Strategy on whose altar was sacrificed the Green Belt first of Field Farm and now seemingly in Toton but an essential component of the Local Plan.  A sort of Deathly Hallows Part 2 if you will.

This time last year Broxtowe, then under Labour/ Liberal Democrat control, undertook a consultation on the green belt – under a banner of “tidying up” the green belt – in which large swathes of  green belt were being offered up as suitable for development in order to meet the Council’s own adopted housing need.

The present Conservative government is consulting on changes to its own 2012 vintage National Planning Policy Framework. The consultation period was extended to Monday 22 February – tomorrow as I write this.  One of the suggestions is that brownfield sites in the green belt should be more readily allowed to be redeveloped for ‘starter homes’.

This would mean that brownfield sites in the green belt (such as a former school) would get planning permission. The danger of starter homes in the green belt is it would eat into the green belt with housing – meaning that it would subsequently be easier to argue that development on adjacent “green” undeveloped areas of green belt could then simply be seen as infill. In the long (or perhaps medium) term it would mean the demise of swathes of green belt and the merging of settlements.

A recent High Court case upheld a decision that whereas gardens are not previously developed land (a term considered in the NPPF as synonymous with brownfield) if the garden is in an urban area gardens in rural areas are previously developed land (brownfields).  This then begs the question of what is the definition of an urban or rural area.

The reason definitions of terms matters is that the government is planning on requiring local authorities to develop a register of brownfield sites, and specifically those that are suitable for housing, and is minded to grant such sites in the green belt automatic planning permission for “starter homes” (i.e. costing less than £250,000 outside London).

Perhaps it is fitting to give the last word to Lewis Carroll’s characters:

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

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