The concept of Development Boundaries is popular in NDPs, but a very careful approach is needed if they are to be succesful.

They are seen as a useful planning tool that gives clarity and support for other planning policies. Typically, the aim is to be clear that inside the boundary is where the market-led housing policies apply, outside is where rural needs and affordable housing-led policies apply.

On the positive side, they are seen to be a clear act of planning by the community, which are easily understood, that directs growth to the most sustainable locations, protects the most sensitive landscape areas and prevents the coalescence of settlements.

But using Development Boundaries can also have a significant downside: they can reduce flexibility to respond to change, create a divisive ‘rallying point’ for different interests, restrict ‘organic’ change, and raise false expectations that might not be delivered (ie rural exceptions for affordable housing may be permitted).

The resource requirements to set up Development Boundaries can also be very heavy. Boundaries require good justification and a logical methodology that is applied consistently, none of which can be easily achieved. There is plenty of advice from LPAs and other sources which must be fully understood, and once a methodology is agreed, every stretch of every boundary must be carefully analysed and discussed. In many cases the judgement of where a Development Boundary should be drawn will be finely balanced, and discussion of them prolonged. If areas of undeveloped land are included to allow for rounding off, Strategic Environmental Assessment might be called for, adding a huge additional workload. The whole thing needs to very well documented so that the Examiner can check that the approach adopted conforms to the Basic Conditions.

That isn’t all. There are also nuances created by case law that complicate the issue of drawing the ‘red line’. NDP groups may assume that properties on settlement edges with large gardens should be excluded from the Development Boundary, so that they are subject to rural development policies, where special circumstances are needed to justify residential development. In other words, placing large gardens outside the Development Boundary may be seen as a way of protecting local character from over-large development proposals. Alongside this is a belief that all private residential gardens are excluded from the definition of ‘brownfield land’ on which the NPPF encouragement of development applies.

However, the NPPF’s exclusion of private residential gardens from the definition of ‘brownfield land’ only applies in ‘built up areas

In Dartford Borough Council v The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors, the Court supported an Inspector who had allowed an appeal against the refusal by the council to grant planning permission for the change of use of land within the residential curtilage of a farmhouse to a private gypsy and traveller caravan site. The location was within the Green Belt and not in a built-up area. The planning Inspector determined that the site was previously developed land for the purposes of the NPPF and was not excluded from that definition as it was not a private residential garden in a built-up area. The local authority challenged this decision, but the Judge agreed with the planning inspector and said that it was impossible to read the NPPF definition as excluding private residential gardens that were not in built up areas. He went on to say that he felt that there was a rational explanation for this, in that “garden-grabbing” is a particular phenomenon of built-up areas. Therefore, gardens outside such areas require less protection from development.

In line with this case law, the gardens of dwellings that are not in built-up areas (ie outside a Development Limit) are likely to be considered as being ‘brownfield’ or previously developed land. This is certainly the case in Cornwall. Thus, a situation exists where a large residential garden included inside a development boundary isn’t seen as being ‘Brownfield land’ in NPPF terms and is therefore better protected from ‘garden grabbing’ than is a large residential garden outside the development boundary.

So, counter-intuitively, drawing the Development Boundary to exclude large gardens may be less effective in controlling development and protecting local character than including them. If included then Local Plan and NDP infill policy criteria would apply, potentially leading to a better form of development than might otherwise occur.

In conclusion, if you want to use Development Boundaries, adopt a strong methodology, be prepared for a lot of work and debate, write everything down, include large gardens and ensure that the NDP has a strong infill policy so that any development that does come forward on them is adequately controlled. And be careful!

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