22. The context for determining planning applications is set out in Circulars and National Planning Policy Guidelines. Forthcoming NPPGs on sport and recreation, development in the countryside and coastal planning will update or give new direction to those themes and may be relevant to golf. But they are unlikely to alter significantly the existing national planning policy context for the appraisal of golf courses or related development.
Countryside and Green Belt Development
23. SDD Circular24Il98S (Development in the Countryside and Green Belts) relates to development other than housing. It states that existing settlements are more likely to be able to accommodate additional rural development, where servicing costs are lower, impact on agriculture and amenity generally can be minimised, and urban sprawl, the coalescence of settlements and ribbon development can be prevented. The Circular suggests that;
"structure plans should define the general circumstances and criteria for areas within which well designed and well located development, which does not affect land that is important for the maintenance of agriculture, damage the scenic or nature conservation interest of the land, or make undue demands on public services, can be successfully merged into open countryside"
The Circular adds that local plans should be specific in defining any areas in which development in the open countryside may be favoured. Where existing local plans provide for such exceptions only in general terms, the first opportunity should be taken to amplify those statements to give clear advice to developers about how, why and where that development may take place and about any special conditions which are likely to be applied in those areas.
24. NPPG3: Land for Housing, supersedes Circular 24/1985 in relation to housing in the countryside although the overall policy remains similar. The NPPG states that the Government's policy on new housing in the countryside continues to be based on the principle that it should be encouraged on suitable sites in existing settlements unless particular circumstances are clearly identified in development plans or there are special needs.
25. Government policy attaches particular importance to the maintenance and protection of green belts around our towns and cities. Development within green belts approved in development plans continues to be strictly controlled. One of the purposes of green belts is to provide for recreation and they may in some circumstances be suitable locations for golf courses, bearing in mind their relationship to the SSC priority areas for development. Golf courses using existing buildings or with no associated development other than a clubhouse and equipment storage, are likely to cause the least impact and could remove uncertainty about the development potential of the inner and most critical parts of green belts. Associated development such as new housing is however likely to be incompatible with green belt policy unless such sites can be justified as part of an overall strategic appraisal of housing land requirements in a structure plan and where they do not undermine the continued overall effectiveness of the green belt. In some cases, where sensitively designed, there may be appropriate locations for driving ranges within green belts but sites within urban areas, closer to the unmet demand should also be examined.
26. Development plans should indicate the locations which might be acceptable for new courses, golf related settlements and associated development in the terms set by Circular 24/1985 and NPPG 3, allowing for the construction, extension or change of use of existing buildings in connection with golf. They should also reaffirm the protection which is normally afforded to the countryside including measures to provide for any loss of access, for example footpaths and informal recreational opportunities, on land taken for golf courses.
Listed Buildings, Archaeology and The Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes
27. The Government's policies give a high priority to conserving the nation's cultural heritage which includes historic buildings and scheduled monuments as well as the parks, gardens or landscapes in which they may be set. Golf course developers are often attracted to such locations and special care will be needed in considering the implications of new proposals alongside the continuing need to protect the historic, archaeological and visual qualities for which the cultural heritage is important. Golf courses may offer a use and a future for some historic buildings in the countryside but associated development such as new housing may well be incompatible with either the historic buildings or their designed landscape setting.
28. Statutory planning procedures exist to identify and protect listed buildings and scheduled monuments and to deal with the development proposals which may affect them. Reference should be made to Historic Scotland's Memorandum of Guidance on Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas (new edition 1993) on the statutory processes governing these designations, with guidelines for the detailed consideration of cases. Guidance and advice on the appropriate treatment of archaeological sites within development proposals, including the requirement to obtain scheduled monument consent, is contained in NPPG 5 and PAN 42 on Archaeology and Planning. In addition, the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) (Scotland) Order 1992 (the GDPO) requires the Secretary of State to be consulted where development affects a category A listed building, an historic garden or designed landscape included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, or a scheduled monument. Planning authorities hold relevant copies of the Inventory which can also be obtained from Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH). The GDPO also requires SNH to be consulted in relation to historic gardens or designed landscapes. In addition to this PAN, advice is currently being prepared by Historic Scotland in relation to proposed development affecting designed landscapes and historic gardens.
Land for Housing and New Settlements
29. NPPG3: Land for Housing, recognises the role which new settlements may serve where developments linked to leisure and tourism would have an acceptable environmental impact and where there is likely to be a market for the houses. Leisure and tourist developments can also improve the attractiveness of an area and in turn bring employment benefits. However the leisure or tourist facility should not in itself provide the basis for approving housing development which would not normally be acceptable in planning terms.
30. Where leisure uses such as golf courses are proposed with related housing in high amenity rural areas, special attention needs to be paid to their overall impact, particularly on landscape character and the settlement pattern. The housing element should be considered within the development plan requirement for housing land and assessed against development plan policies. Paragraphs 42-46, 56 and 75 below provide further justification for this approach.
31 Where time-share accommodation and holiday chalet villages feature in golf related development proposals, they do not normally exhibit the characteristics of a new settlement so the accommodation cannot be counted against housing land supply in development plans. Their impact in terms of local economic and social benefit should be considered in relation to policies for tourism. Structure plans should however determine the overall strategy for leisure facilities leaving detailed considerations to local plans.
32. PAN36: Siting and Design of New Housing in the Countryside describes how new housing groups in the countryside can derive their inspiration from village layouts rather than suburban estates. Developers should be encouraged to apply this principle to golf related settlements demonstrating an understanding and regard for the surroundings. Layouts should seek to avoid the creation of an urban frontage that presents an alien suburban character. Layouts should also show that the advantages of open outlooks provided by the design of the housing arrangement in relation to fairways and greens, have taken account of the need to ensure the safety of residents who might otherwise be at risk from wayward golf balls. The orientation of new properties should also aim to maximise their energy efficiency.
33. To provide for unmet demand course-owning clubs may seek to develop parts of their land to finance extensions and developments especially in urban areas. But golf courses in addition to their sports use, perform valuable functions for walking, as habitats and wildlife corridors and they can improve the visual amenity in urban areas. The prospect of new development on golf courses should have regard to these additional functions.
Agricultural Land and Farm Diversification
34. SDD Circular 1811987 (Development Involving Agricultural Land) states that as the need to maximise agricultural output declines, so the need to diversify the rural economy into other kinds of activity on and off the farm increases; introducing other types of employment and development provided that it is on a scale appropriate to rural areas. Planning authorities should consider the implications for agriculture of new proposals alongside the implications for economic development and the continuing need to protect the scenic and other qualities for which the countryside is valued.
35. Development continues to be restricted on prime agricultural land (Grades 1, 2 and 3.1). A stand-alone golf course, together with any necessary ancillary developments requiring planning permission such as car parks, access roads and clubhouses, can be considered reversible in the terms set by Circular 18/1987 and therefore acceptable in general as an alternative use for agricultural land. Other related developments such as housing, or any subsequent irreversible development of the golf course land itself, should be treated as planning applications in the normal way and considered in the light of existing policies, land quality and consultation procedures applying to development on agricultural land generally.
36. Taking Circular 24/1985 into account, proposals for the reuse of existing buildings in rural areas should not be refused unless there are specific and convincing reasons which cannot be overcome by imposing conditions. Section 50 agreements can ensure that the land could return to agriculture if required. Where agricultural land is an adjunct to the country estate or a feature of a Garden Inventory site, aspects such as historic field boundaries or earthworks may require careful assessment and protection when development proposals are brought forward.
37. The Scottish Office booklet, Farm Diversification and Planning Permission (1990) gives advice about alternative uses of agricultural land and appropriate conversion of redundant farm buildings. In general it indicates the need for planning permission for new outdoor sports activities and reference is made to the principles of Circular 24/1985. Substantial new housing development should not be regarded as diversification.
38. SDD Circular 13/1988 (Environmental Assessment) introduced the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Regulations 1988. Schedule 2, Part 11 of the Regulations; "Other Projects", is relevant to proposals such as holiday villages or hotel complexes. EA may be required where in the case of a golf course associated with such development, the planning authorities consider that the proposal might have significant environmental effects.
39. EA may be valuable in demonstrating how golf related developments could be environmentally sustainable. This may include consideration of the impact on landscape character, tree cover, water courses and wetlands and habitats such as sensitive grassland and scrub vegetation. Patterns of informal recreational use, historic, cultural and topographical landscape features and archaeological remains are also vulnerable to disturbance. The most pressing cases for EA may be where proposals overlap with, or lie adjacent to, sensitive locations, in particular, SPAs, SSSls and NNRs.
40. Environmental statements should describe the likely significant effects of new proposals. In relation to golf related proposals which merit EA, environmental statements may include the consequences for the environment of new structures, hard surfaces, landscape impact and traffic generation and the enhancement of or impact on local habitat diversity where agricultural land is removed from productive use. Archaeological interests should be dealt with under the requirement to describe the likely significant effects on the cultural heritage.
41. EA for golf related developments is likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Where it is undertaken, the EA process should elicit better understanding of the relevant environmental issues both for developers in producing designs and for planning authorities in considering whether to grant planning permission. Circular 13/1988 advises that developers should approach planning authorities at as early a stage as possible in cases where there is likely to be any question of the need for them to provide an environmental statement.