THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE: How do I get planning permission for homes in the Green Belt?

Getting planning permission for housing development on Green Belt sites is one of the hardest objectives to achieve under our planning system. But it is possible if you go about it in the right way. This post explores the different approaches you can take.

What is Green Belt?

A good starting point is to understand what Green Belt actually is. According to a survey in 2012, 86% of the public don’t know the difference between a Green Belt site and a greenfield one, so this isn’t as obvious as it might seem.

A greenfield site is one that hasn’t previously been developed – it is a physical description of the site, and doesn’t automatically result in any particular protection from development. Green Belt on the other hand, is a planning designation. It refers to areas of land that have been specifically identified in a Council’s Local Plan that need to be kept free of development. There are five functions that land designated as Green Belt should perform, but the most common two are to stop neighbouring towns merging together, and to stop development sprawling into the countryside.

So Green Belt sites are almost always greenfield sites, but greenfield sites aren’t always Green Belt sites.

The first thing to check is always what the status of your site actually is. If the site is a greenfield but isn’t in the Green Belt, it can be much easier to get planning permission, as this previous blog post explains.

Having established that your site actually is in the Green Belt, how do you go about getting planning permission for development? There are three main routes to consider:

  1. Despite the perception of a blanket ban on development, some types of development are allowed. Is your proposal for one of them?
  2. Are there ‘very special circumstances’ which would mean the proposed development would be acceptable?
  3. Are there ‘exceptional circumstances’ that would allow the boundary of the Green Belt to be changed, removing your site from it?

Let’s explore each in turn.

Appropriate Developments

There are some types of development that national policy states are acceptable in the Green Belt. Most of these are for uses which aren’t really of interest here – mineral extraction, transport infrastructure and new buildings to support existing sports facilities, for example.

A few of these acceptable uses could increase the value of a site, however. Sometimes whole villages are ‘washed over’ by the Green Belt with even the buildings incorporated within it. In those circumstances, ‘infilling’ a small gap between existing buildings can be acceptable. If there is enough evidence of a need for affordable housing in a settlement, that can also be used to justify development in the Green Belt – but only for the number of affordable homes that are needed.

The exception with the greatest potential to increase value is the redevelopment of existing brownfield sites in the Green Belt. Provided the new development wouldn’t have a greater impact on the ‘openness’ of the Green Belt than the buildings which it is to replace, then applications are normally acceptable. In practice, that means that new buildings shouldn’t cover a greater portion of the site, and shouldn’t be any higher than, existing buildings.

‘Very Special Circumstances’

Development can also be allowed if you are able to show that there are ‘very special circumstances’ why it needs to take place. There is often much debate about what this actually means but, in essence, you need to show that there is no other site where that development can take place. This might include, for example, development to raise funds to enhance an existing factory or school on the same site. Even when that is the case, the benefits that will stem from the development must be so significant as to outweigh the harm that will be caused to the Green Belt.

What is clear, though, is that a shortage of housing isn’t a very special circumstance by itself. However many homes a Council needs to deliver, and however few are actually coming forward, a site’s Green Belt designation would still prevent development.

‘Exceptional Circumstances’

Every Council is supposed to have an up-to-date Local Plan that will steer development in their borough for the next 15 years or so. When they are preparing their Plans, Councils are able to remove sites from the Green Belt and allocate them for development provided there are ‘exceptional circumstances.’

In most cases, the exceptional circumstances are usually that the amount of development necessary to meet a Council’s needs simply doesn’t fit on the non-Green Belt sites that are available.

Once those circumstances are established, the Council should carry out a Green Belt review. This shouldn’t look at development potential, but rather should look at how well different sites fulfil the functions of Green Belt. Only the sites that perform the least well as areas of Green Belt should then be considered for development, with the Council picking the sites that they believe will give the most appropriate and sustainable pattern of development overall. Once a Planning Inspector has formally confirmed he is happy with the Council’s approach, a planning application can be approved. Until that point, the sites remain in Green Belt and any application would be judged against existing Green Belt policies (and so likely refused).

This whole process is carried out in public, with the opportunity to comment at various stages. That means land owners have the chance to promote their sites through the Local Plan process to try to convince the Council that their site should be identified for development. To have the best chance of securing a development allocation, it is important to get involved at all stages – from establishing the need for Green Belt release, to setting the distribution of development across the borough, and the Green Belt review process itself.

Strategic land promotion like this can be time consuming, complicated and very expensive which is why most Green Belt development takes place on sites owned by house builders. They have the skills and deep pockets to follow the process from beginning to end. The Strategic Land Group also have the expertise and financial strength to deliver this type of development. Unlike developers, our approach is to work in partnership with land owners – we promote their sites at our cost and risk with our return being a share of the land value once the site is sold. If we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost the land owner anything.

If you own a site that you think might benefit from our land promotion approach, please get in touch today on a strictly confidential basis and with no obligation.

If you found this article interesting, you might want to read some of our other posts about Green Belt too.

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