Can I develop outside the settlement boundary?

(For clarity we are not discussing Green Belt schemes in this article. These have their own challenges and solutions which will be covered in a separate article. This article assumes a greenfield rural site near a settlement boundary.)

Developing outside settlements?

This is a question often asked by applicants.


You have a greenfield site located just outside the settlement boundary, in sight of other housing with good access and in all other ways appearing to be great opportunity.


But the preapplication advice is negative.

The ‘hierarchy’ approach.

Most local plans have a ‘hierarchy’ approach to development. It should firstly be located in the dense urban centres of core settlements, then urban fringes, then satellite settlements, then rural settlements.


Generally, development plans do not support more isolated development in open countryside or rural areas. This is partly because there is rarely the required infrastructure to support housing in more isolated areas and partly because it is more often damaging for the environment or agricultural industry.


Combined with this, most development plans define a fairly binary approach to what is ‘open countryside’ or ‘isolated rural areas’ – i.e. if it is outside a defined settlement boundary it is in open countryside and development would not be supported.


In reality, of course, it is not such a binary picture.

The caveats.

However, there are caveats. Again, a common theme in most development plans with such policies is that there are certain ‘exceptions’ to this rule, including specifically for affordable housing rural exception sites.


These policies provide a caveat to the restriction on development outside settlement boundaries for affordable housing led schemes which meet established local need.


So, how do you take advantage of this option?

Rural exception step by step:

Firstly, you need to obtain the local need data for affordable housing in this area. You need specifics to justify your case to the local authority.


Provided there is local need, the next step is to design the scheme around that need data and the local authority’s policy requirements.


Often you will need to engage with a registered provider as partner to ensure the scheme is optimised to their needs and there is a strong case for the local authority to agree to.


Viability will also be a key consideration. Will the proposed scheme be viable and deliverable at the proposed number of dwellings, type of affordable housing and dwelling sizes, or does it require some on-site open market dwellings to cross-subsidise it? Does the local plan allow for this or restrict the percentage of open market cross-subsidy.


Rural exception sites are complex and it can be challenging to bring all these elements together. We can assist with all matters relating to rural exception sites, so please do contact us if you have a site outside a settlement boundary.

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