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Is the Green Belt really under siege?

It’s that time of year when the Campaign to Protect Rural England publishes statistics about development in the Green Belt and loudly proclaims that it is under siege from developers.

But is that really true? Read on to find out.

How much Green Belt is there?

The latest figures from the government show that there are 1,636,620 hectares of Green Belt. That’s equivalent to almost 2.4 million football pitches. In fact, more of the country is Green Belt (13%) than is actually developed (11%).

That figure doesn’t include areas like National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which have an even higher degree of protection from development than the Green Belt. Taken together, these areas account for more than a third of the country.

How great is the threat to Green Belt?

The Green Belt has indeed reduced in area over the last 12 months – by 2,000 hectares. It is presumably that reduction that is the motivation for the CPRE press release. Yet while it sounds like a lot, that decrease accounts for just 0.1% of the total area of Green Belt in England. And as the graph below shows, the amount of Green Belt in England has actually increased since the government started recording its size in 1997.

So while the extent of the Green Belt might have reduced more quickly over the last 12 months than at any time in the last 20 years, that’s mainly because it’s been increasing in extent for almost all of that time.

Change in Green Belt over time - graph

 

The government have made it clear that development in the Green Belt is only allowed in an extremely limited number of situations. Some of those are covered in more detail in this blog.

In particular, despite the national housing crisis a shortage of homes is not a good enough planning reason to allow development to take place in the Green Belt by itself. This has been confirmed in national policy, national guidance, appeal decisions, court judgements and ministerial statements. The government’s position really could not be clearer – which is why the extent of the Green Belt has remained almost completely unchanged.

The slight drop in the size of the Green Belt is explained by new Local Plans being brought into force. A total of 11 Councils redrew their Green Belt boundaries in 2014/15, which accounts for all of the decrease.

Changes that are made through the Local Plan process must satisfy a number of very strong tests. The first of those is to consider whether an area of land actually performs the role of Green Belt in the first place. Even then, those changes can only come into effect following extensive consultation and a public inquiry. The Green Belt is robustly defended by planning policy.

Quality versus quantity

It’s not a debate that should be just about quantity either. The quality of the sites that are released from the Green Belt is also very important. Because of that strict process for allowing their release, they are not the picturesque views that CPRE attach to their press releases.

Far more typical is the example of Bolton, one of the 11 Councils to release land from the Green Belt last year. The site they chose to allow to be developed had been subject to open cast coal mining and included a tip. It was, if anything, an eyesore. Yet it is next to the motorway network and is ideally located to help meet Bolton’s need for employment land. That seems a very sensible use of our finite land resources.

Is the siege real after all?

The answer seems to be that the Green Belt isn’t really under threat at all. In reality the Green Belt is still staunchly protected from development.

Whether it should be under threat to help tackle the housing crisis is another question, and one that we’ll cover in a future blog. If you can’t wait until then, it is considered in some detail in this article from The Daily Telegraph.

The fact that 11 Councils have released land from the Green Belt for development purposes shows what is possible. The Strategic Land Group work in partnership with land owners to promote their land through the planning system entirely at our cost and risk – and that includes sites in the Green Belt. If you think we can help with your site, get in touch.

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