Lanni v First Secretary of State & Anor, Court of Appeal - Administrative Court, July 16, 2003, [2003] EWHC 1716 (Admin)

Resolution Date:July 16, 2003
Issuing Organization:Administrative Court
Actores:Lanni v First Secretary of State & Anor

Case No: CO/916/2003





Royal Courts of Justice


London, WC2A 2LL

Wednesday 16 July 2003

Before :


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Between :

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(Transcript of the Handed Down Judgment of

Smith Bernal Wordwave Limited, 190 Fleet Street

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Simon Pickles (instructed by Matthews) for the Claimant

Robert Palmer (instructed by Treasury Solicitor) for the Defendant

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Mr Justice Maurice Kay :

  1. Bridge House Hotel is a hotel restaurant and conference centre complex situated off the A217 on the wooded south facing scarp slope of the North Downs overlooking Reigate. It is about 1.5 miles north of the town centre. It is outside the defined urban area of Reigate just beyond an area of scattered low density residential development. Mr. Onesto Lanni made a planning application dated 19 June 2002. Its aim was the demolition of the hotel and ancillary buildings in favour of a residential development comprising 23 flats with provision for car parking and landscaping. The site lies within the Metropolitan Green Belt, the Surrey Hills area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an Area of Great Landscape Value. The Local Planning Authority is Reigate and Banstead Borough Council. Its officials recommended approval of the application. However on 9 October 2002 the Planning Committee resolved to refuse planning permission on two grounds. They were expressed in the following terms:

    ``(1) The Development would be inappropriate development within the Metropolitan Green Belt and would also have a detrimental impact on its open character by reason of its bulk, height and massing. It would thereby conflict with policies PE2 of the approved Surrey Structure Plan 1994, CO1 of the adopted Reigate and Banstead Borough Local Plan 1994, LO6 of the Surrey Structure Plan First Alteration (Deposit Draft) 2001, CO1 of the Reigate and Banstead Borough Local Plan First Alteration (Revised Deposit Draft) 2000 and PPG2 - Green Belts.

    (2) The development would have a detrimental impact on the landscape character of the surrounding Area of Great Landscape Value an Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty by reason of its height and massing. It would thereby conflict with policies PE7 of the approved Surrey Structure Plan 1994, PC1 of the adopted Reigate and Banstead Borough Local Plan 1994 and SE6 of the Surrey Structure Plan First Alteration (Deposit Draft) 2001.''

    In short, the first reason for refusal related to the open character of the Metropolitan Green Belt (MGB), whereas the second reason related to the landscape character of the Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

  2. Mr. Lanni appealed under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. An inquiry was held by an Inspector appointed by the First Secretary of State on 26 and 27 November 2002. By a Decision Letter dated 10 January 2003, the Inspector dismissed the appeal. The Inspector identified the main issues to be: (1) whether the proposal amounts to inappropriate development in the Green Belt, and if so, whether there are any very special circumstances sufficient to overcome the presumption against such development; and (2) the effect of the proposal on the character and appearance of the Surrey Hills AONB and AGLV.

  3. The relevant development plan includes the Surrey Structure Plan and the Reigate and Banstead Borough Local Plan. Policy PE2 of the Structure Plan indicates that development considered to conflict with the purpose of the MGB, or which would adversely affect its open character will not be permitted except in very special circumstances. Policy PE7 seeks to conserve and enhance landscape quality. Within AONBs and AGLVs, development considered to be inconsistent with this prime objective will not be allowed. The Inspector considered the advice contained in Planning Policy Guidance Note 2: Green Belts (PPG 2) regarding the control of development in such areas to be particularly relevant in this case. He also considered Planning Policy Guidance Note 3: Housing (PPG3) in respect of sustainable residential development, and Planning Policy Guidance Note 7: The Countryside-Environmental Quality and Economic and Social Development (PPG7), with regard to AONBs, to be significant in determining the appeal.

    The Inspector's Reasoning

  4. 1. Green Belt

    At the Inquiry the parties agreed that the proposal does not accord with the categories of appropriate development that are set out in paragraphs 3.4 to 3.6 of PPG2. Neither does it relate to the reuse of an existing building as considered in paragraph 3.7 to 3.10 of that document. The site is not identified in the development plan as a site suitable for redevelopment under the terms set out in Annex C to PPG2. The proposal therefore represents inappropriate development in the MGB and is, by definition, harmful to the MGB. The Decision Letter states:

    ``11. The Appellant maintains that the redevelopment of the site would feature previously developed land within the terms laid down in PPG3 and will deliver a much more aesthetically pleasing building when compared with the existing complex. This, together with other works, would significantly enhance environmental quality at this sensitive location and cumulatively these factors amount to very special circumstances, sufficient to overcome the presumption against inappropriate development within the Green Belt.

  5. I accept that the appeal site represents previously developed land as defined in Annex C to PPG3. However the site is not within or indeed adjoining, the defined urban area of Reigate. In addition, I do not consider that the site could be adequately described as being suburban in character. It is well separated from other dwellings, within a well wooded landscape. It is a country hotel set just outside the town within the countryside. Whilst it could be argued that a country hotel does not represent appropriate development within the Green Belt under the terms of PPG 2, such premises do exist and fulfil a need. This site is currently in full and active use for that purpose, a role it has performed for very many years. Therefore, whilst I accept that the previously developed status of the site is a material consideration, it does not on its own, in my view, outweigh the general presumption against inappropriate development within the Green Belt.

  6. I acknowledge that the proposed building has been thoughtfully designed, drawing on local architectural influences, and interpreting and adapting these to the needs of a purpose built residential complex. Generally speaking I find that the building would occupy a similar footprint to the existing complex, and would also have a similar massing and bulk. However this would be relieved by more interesting and appropriate frontage detailing an archway that would allow vehicles to penetrate to the rear of the site where parking would be contained and concealed.

  7. These features, together with the intention to improve landscaping and ensure its future management would in my view represent a visual improvement when compared with existing hotel complex which is architecturally unprepossessing, having grown incrementally over the years. Overall the proposal would maintain the openness of the site.

  8. However, the existing hotel and restaurant buildings cannot in my view be described as visually unattractive and in need of replacement. Although architecturally unimaginative, they are well established within their setting and are maintained to a high order. Their horizontal alignment, utilising the gradient of the land, limits their visual presence. The surface car parking arranged around the front and side of the restaurant could not be described as an attractive feature, but as a necessary requirement of the site, given its limitations in terms of accessibility by other modes of transport. The car parking area is not visible from distant views, and is only readily apparent and largely confined to motorists in shorter views when travelling from north to south on the A217. Whilst the proposal would supply visual benefits over...

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