An inspector has upheld an enforcement notice requiring the cessation of unauthorised airport parking in the Bristol and Bath green belt, unpersuaded by the appellants’ argument that the reversibility of the use rendered it not inappropriate (DCS Number 400-030-218).
The appellant referred the inspector to Europa Oil and Gas Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  (upheld at 2014), which involved a drill site to explore for hydrocarbons in the green belt, including plant and buildings. The inspector in that case failed to consider the proposal in the context of paragraph 90 of the Framework then in force, which said, as does paragraph 146(a) in the current version, that mineral extraction is not inappropriate development. The court, the inspector in the current case related, held that the effect on openness had to be considered in the context of duration and reversibility. However, the court also said that those factors are of particular importance to the thinking which makes mineral extraction potentially appropriate in the green belt. Another is the fact that extraction, including exploration, can only take place where those operations achieve what is required in relation to the minerals. Minerals can only be extracted where they are found. Thus, the inspector reasoned, the considerations relating to mineral extraction are completely different from those for a material change of use of land of the kind involved in the appeal before him. There are no physical constraints which mean that car parking can only take place in a very limited number of locations, he continued, nor is the existence of such land finite.
The inspector did acknowledge, on the other hand, that there are a number of considerations which are relevant to the assessment of openness in relation to car parking. He considered that the first is that of frequency of use. The evidence before him suggested that the site was used on a year-round basis, throughout the day and night and that the number of cars had increased as time passed. He accepted that the use was reversible, but, unlike mineral extraction, which is a finite activity, there was no such “end date”.
There is no statutory definition of openness, the inspector explained, but he regarded it as the absence of physical manifestations of development. He decided that the parking of densely packed cars on the scale involved in the case before him, where several hundred cars might be parked at one time, appeared as manmade development and it clearly reduced the spatial openness of the land.
The inspector concluded that the use of the land for airport parking was inappropriate development, contrary to development plan policy, and resulted in loss of openness in the green belt, which is harmful in itself.