House of Commons Library

Green Belt

Published Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Government's policy on the green belt protection is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and associated guidance. This note sets out further information on thes size of the green belt alongside recent and proposed policy changes in England.

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Government policy on protection for the green belt is set out in chapter 9 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. The NPPF states that that the construction of new buildings should be regarded as “inappropriate” for the green belt, although there are some exceptions, which are listed.

The Government statistics on Green Belt in England in 2014/15 estimated that it covered 1,636,620 hectares, around 13% of the land area of England.

It is for local authorities to define and maintain green belt land in their local areas. The Government expects local planning authorities with green belts to establish green belt boundaries in their Local Plans, which can be altered as part of the plan review process.

Online Planning Practice Guidance issued by Government in March 2014 aimed to make clear that “unmet housing need (including for traveller sites) is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt”. This was followed up with further changes to planning guidance issued in October 2014.

The previous Government consulted on the case for changing planning policy and practice guidance to strengthen green belt protection in regard to traveller sites. This was taken on by the current Government when it revised its Planning Policy for Traveller Sites in August 2015.

From August 2015 the current Government announced that the Planning Inspectorate would monitor all appeal decisions involving unauthorised development in the Green Belt and that in addition it would consider the recovery of a proportion of relevant appeals in the Green Belt for the Secretary of State’s decision.

A December 2015 Government consultation proposes to amend green belt policy to allow starter homes to be built in the Green Belt when a site has been identified in a neighbourhood plan and to allow for starter homes to be built on some brownfield sites in the Green Belt.

Research by Glenigan in 2015 found “a sharp increase in the number of houses securing full planning approval in the greenbelt.”  According to the research in 2009/10, 2,258 homes were approved in green belt areas. In 2013/2014, the number had risen to 5,607 and in 2014/2015, it was 11,977 homes.

The 2010 Natural England and CPRE report, Green Belts: A greener future, concluded green belt policy was “highly effective” in its principal purpose, but called for “more ambition” to further enhance the green belt protection for future generations. Paul Cheshire, Professor Emeritus of Economic Geography, LSE, has argued that building on the least attractive and lowest amenity parts of greenbelts could solve housing supply and affordability problems. The OECD has also criticised the green belt system for being an obstacle to house building.

This note sets out these issues in more detail. It applies to England only.

Separate Library briefing papers, Planning for Housing and Stimulating housing supply, give more information on housing issues.

Commons Briefing papers SN00934

Author: Louise Smith

Topics: Environmental protection, Planning

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