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Letter to PINS did not signal green belt policy change, says Boles

A letter sent by UK planning minister Nick Boles to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) earlier this month raising concerns over a planning inspector's wording regarding a local authority's green belt policy in a local plan examination did not "signal a change of policy or approach", Boles has confirmed.19 Mar 2014

Boles wrote the letter to PINS chief executive Michael Pitt following an inspector's recommendation last month that Reigate and Banstead Council should recognise in its Local Plan that loss of green belt land would be necessary to meet the housing needs of the borough.

Boles said he was "disturbed" by the inspector's use of language, which he said invited misinterpretation of government policy and misunderstanding about the local authority's role in drawing up local plan policies.

Pitt subsequently responded (1-page / 300KB PDF) to Boles and said that PINS has taken steps to ensure that reports and other documents are carefully worded, including the introduction of a 'sense checking' process to ensure any references by inspectors to green belt alterations are expressed in an "appropriate and sensitive way".

Pitt asked Boles to confirm that in local plan examinations inspectors should continue to question local authorities to determine the extent to which they have followed guidance under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) when seeking to meet the housing needs of their area.

Boles said in a further letter (1-page / 30KB PDF) to Pitt that his previous letter did not signal a policy change and that inspectors should continue to determine whether local authorities have followed the NPPF in seeking to meet the objectively assessed development needs of their area.

Boles also advised that all planning inspectors should use the government's recently published planning practice guidance which he said provides "useful clarity" on the practical application of policy.