Pertemps Investments Limited v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The case involved the interpretation and application of Policy P17 “Countryside and Green Belt” of the Solihull Local Plan. It was a challenge by Pertemps Investments Ltd to the decision of a Planning Inspector dismissing its appeal for a new office building in the grounds of Meriden Hall near Coventry. The site is in the Green Belt, and the development was said to conflict with Policy P17 because it was a new building that was inappropriate in the Green Belt.

However, part of Policy P17 says that:

The reasonable expansion of established businesses into the Green Belt will be allowed where the proposal would make a significant contribution to the local economy or employment, providing that appropriate mitigation can be secured.

Pertemps argued that they should be entitled to benefit from the support offered by the Policy, because the term “expansion” was capable of applying to new buildings in the Green Belt and wasn’t to be restricted to “extensions”. Further, when considering a more recent application by Jaguar Land Rover to expand its business into the Green Belt through the provision of a considerable number of new buildings, hardstanding and a dispatch area, the Council had considered that the scheme was supported by Policy P17. Pertemps argued that the decisions were inconsistent.  Both grounds were successful.

Lindblom J in quashing the Inspector’s decision held that Policy P17 did not create a new exception to the general rule that the construction of new buildings in the Green Belt is inappropriate development because paragraphs 89 and 90 of the NPPF are to be regarded as closed lists; see R. (on the application of Timmins) v Gedling Borough Council [2015] EWCA Civ 10. However,

“[Policy P17] lends the support of development plan policy, in principle, to development which would enable the reasonable expansion of established businesses in the Green Belt, and can thus reinforce an argument that inappropriate development which would do that is justified by very special circumstances.” (para 42)

The Inspector however had failed to properly understand and apply the policy, which could have been a powerful factor in the planning balance in favour of the proposal. Accordingly ground 1 of the application succeeded. (See para 44).

In allowing ground 2 of the application, Lindblom J pointed to the failure of the Inspector to have regard to the Council’s decision on the JLR scheme, or at least to explain why he was differing from the Council’s interpretation and approach to the application of Policy P17 in that case. That was said to offend the principles emphasised by the Court of Appeal in North Wiltshire District Council and in subsequent cases where consistency in decision-making has been at issue.

Thea Osmund-Smith appeared in the High Court on behalf of Pertemps Investments Limited.