Eight ways homes can be allowed in the Green Belt

The Green Belt is a planning designation applied to some greenfield sites. It aims to prevent most types of development to protect the countryside from encroachment, stop urban sprawl and prevent neighbouring towns from merging, among other things.

Green Belt designation is effectively the highest level of protection from development that the planning system can afford an area of land. As a result, green belt building rules are challenging to navigate.

However, that doesn’t mean that securing planning permission for new homes in the Green Belt is impossible.

If getting planning permission is your goal, there are a number of ways that can be achieved.

Removing land from the Green Belt through the Local Plan process

National planning policy allows councils to remove land from the Green Belt when they are preparing new Local Plans – provided they can show that there are “exceptional circumstances” for doing so.

While a shortage of new homes can be considered exceptional circumstances, councils must first demonstrate that:

  • they’ve used as much brownfield land as possible;
  • have optimised the density of development; and,
  • have considered whether neighbouring councils can help meet their housing need.

Although this is the route that is most likely to prove successful, it is dependent on the timing of the Local Plan process. There is also likely to be stiff competition from other land owners attempting to get their sites allocated for residential development.

Redevelopment of Previously Developed Land

Not all Green Belt was created equal. Rather than the picture postcard fields you might imagine, much of the Green Belt is far from that. It includes, for example, large areas that already have development on them.

Where land is classed as Previously Developed Land – and not all land with buildings on it counts, as we explain here – sites can often be redeveloped to provide new homes. There are some restrictions on the amount of development that is allowed, to ensure that the openness of the Green Bet is maintained and the new buildings will have no more of an impact on the Green Belt than what was there before. Yet this is a good option for many sites.

Conversion of agricultural buildings

Whilst agricultural buildings aren’t usually considered to be Previously Developed Land – precluding their demolition and replacement with homes – they can often be converted into residential properties using permitted developed rights. There are, though, some constraints on the use of these rights – no more than five homes can be created, for example, and there are some size restrictions.

“Infill” development

This involves building a new property in a gap in an existing built frontage. The logic is that it would not increase harm to the openness of the Green Belt through the extension of the built form. Whether or not this applies can be very subjective and is usually quite strictly interpreted by councils.

Affordable housing on Green Belt land

Where there is a demand for affordable housing in a particular location, new homes can be allowed in the Green Belt to meet that need. However, this exception only applies where specific policies in the Local Plan that allow that to happen – and even then, only if the need for those homes is clearly demonstrated.

“Very special circumstances” for developing Green Belt land

This requires the identification of some benefit of the proposed development that could be delivered on this specific site, but nowhere else. A shortage of housing land does not represent very special circumstances, but there are other factors which could do. For example, the new homes might be needed in order to provide land or funding for the expansion of an adjacent school. The delivery of a “Paragraph 79” house or a home for an agricultural or forestry work – which are explained below in more detail – are types of very special circumstance.

A so-called “Paragraph 79” house

This applies where the design of a house is of exceptional quality – that it is so “outstanding and innovative” that it would “significantly enhance its immediate setting.” That quality must be so high that it will off-set the harm to the Green Belt. This usually only applies to single dwellings on large sites remote from existing settlements.

“Paragraph 79” refers to the specific policy in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), so you will sometimes see these homes referred to as “Paragraph 55” houses, a reference to a similar policy in an older version of the NPPF.

Building homes for agricultural or forestry workers

National policy recognises that, in some cases, there is a need for an agricultural or forestry worker to live in a specific location, and that can represent the very special circumstances needed to allow development to take place in the Green Belt.

Using this exemption requires credible evidence of the need for the worker to live on site as well as evidence that there are no other suitable properties nearby. That second requirement means that, where a site is in close proximity to properties in other settlements, this can often be challenging to prove.


One of the UK’s most well-established land promotion companies, The Strategic Land Group has more than ten years’ experience working to deliver housing development on Green Belt land using exactly these types of approaches.

As a specialist land promoter, the whole process is entirely at our risk – if we don’t succeed it doesn’t cost you anything.

Strategic Land Group will fund the whole process, with our return being a share of the value of the land once it is sold.

If you think our approach might work on your site, get in touch for a free, no obligation consultation.

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