Brownfield, Greenfield, Green Belt: what do they all mean?

When talking about development, we often use terms like brownfield, greenfield and Green Belt to describe sites. Yet their meaning – at least in a planning sense – might not be as straightforward as it appears. Let’s take a look at what they really mean.


“Brownfield” is shorthand for “Previously Developed Land” – the planning jargon for sites that have already been built on.

Not every site that is previously developed actually counts as Previously Developed Land. The definition in the National Planning Policy Framework is very precise. For example, agricultural buildings don’t count as Previously Developed Land. It’s also possible for sites that were developed to blend into the landscape to such an extent that they are no longer considered brownfield.

That tight definition is because brownfield sites get special treatment in planning policy. Their re-development is to be “encouraged” by councils and can even be a reason to allow development in the Green Belt – where it would otherwise be prevented.


“Greenfield” isn’t really a planning term – it doesn’t actually appear anywhere in national planning policy. Instead, it is a description of a site’s physical characteristics. It usually refers to those sites that have the appearance of never having been developed – effectively the opposite of brownfield land.

Appearances, in this context, are all important. As we’ve explained, it is perfectly possible for sites that have been developed in the past to fall derelict and become so overgrown that they come to be considered greenfield sites.

Green Belt

Unlike the two previous terms, “Green Belt” isn’t a description of what a site looks like – it’s the name of a planning policy designed to manage growth.

When Green Belt was first established, it was intended to stop London sprawling ever outwards. As Green Belts were designated in other parts of England, other purposes were added too. Today, as well as limiting sprawl it is intended to prevent neighbouring settlements from merging, to encourage the re-use of brownfield land, and to protect the setting of historic towns.

Whilst the popular image of the Green Belt is rolling green fields, it covers areas of Previously Developed Land too. In fact, it can cover whole villages.

As a specialist land promoter, The Strategic Land Group are used to working with land owners to deliver planning permission for new homes on all these types of site. We do that entirely at our own cost and risk – if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you have a site that you think might suitable for housing development, get in touch for a free consultation with no obligation.

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