Prof. Alan Wenban-Smith explains “very special circumstances” that might permit development of the Green Belt

Alan Wenban-Smith is a consultant in urban and regional policy and visiting professor of planning at Birmingham City University

Prof. Alan Wenban-Smith

Last Thursday 30 October  CPRE held a packed meeting at Holy Trinity Upper Hall Guildford.  The audience included CPRE supporters and organisers, Resident Associations representatives, Parish, Borough and County Councillors and GGG committee members.  The main speaker was Alan Wenban-Smith, a consultant in urban and regional policy and visiting professor of planning at Birmingham City University and the inventor of the expression “Brownfield sites”.


Alan’s talk was about the three stages of a Local Plan and, dull as the subject sounds, he captured the audience with his knowledge and well timed wit …. “and that’s as much fun the planners can have with their clothes on”


During the question time, Cllr Liz Hogger (one of only two Guildford Borough Councillors present) asked Alan what the definition was of “very special circumstances”.  To the astonishment of the audience he explained that there is no definition. He added, “you will know it when you see it.”  He went on to explain by way of two examples in Birmingham where he had been the lead planner during the Thatcher Years when the city was losing more jobs than Wales and Scotland put together. At the time, economically the UK was in decline and it was therefore decided to build a first class industrial estate on the Green Belt just outside Birmingham.  These were seen as very special circumstances of National economic importance and were approved.

Alan gave another example when various UK cities were competing for the new National Football grounds and again it was considered that there were perhaps very special circumstances that meant that they could seek approval to develop a Green Belt area between Birmingham and Solihull.  In the end, as we all know, Wembley won and the matter was not put to the LPA. He went on to say that very exceptional circumstances do not just suddenly pop up out of nowhere but instead there is a progressive history that builds up and so you can see the reasons developing.

Towards the end of his presentation Alan said that Green Belt need not be a relic of the past but instead could be a key part of the future structure around our cities.  He considered that with all planning, transport infrastructure was the key.

And finally the three-stage process he spoke about for development was 1)  SHMA Strategic Housing Market Assessment, 2) SHLA Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and 3) the Local Plan