Green Belt: The Death of Eden?
When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into force, one of the key criticisms levelled at it by objectors was that it would be a licence to concrete over the Green Belt; that England’s green and pleasant land would be no more. But has that dystopian vision come to pass? And if so, how can you get planning permission on a Green Belt site?
How much Green Belt is there?
Although the Campaign to Protect Rural England might have you believe otherwise, there is quite a lot of Green Belt land in England. According to the latest statistical release from the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), there are 1,639,090 hectares of land with that designation - over 2.5m football pitches worth. And that doesn’t include National Parks, which aren’t actually in the Green Belt but are afforded an even higher level of protection. At 12% of the total land area of England, the amount of Green Belt compares very favourably with the circa 11% of the country that is urbanised (according to an Office of National Statistics audit).
How real is the threat?
Not very, seems to be the answer. Not only is there a lot of Green Belt, despite a slight reduction of 0.02% last year the amount is actually increasing. The graph below shows the change in the area of Green Belt in England since 1997, based on that same CLG data release.
The reasons for that seem very obvious. Despite the nightmare scenarios portrayed by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, the NPPF actually affords a great degree of protection to Green Belt land – it even has its own section of policy. For example, a shortage of supply of something, whether homes or employment land, is not in itself a reason to release Green Belt for development – the outcome that Middle England feared. That position has been underlined in Ministerial Statements, and established through a number of appeal decisions.
Nick Boles MP went one step further at the beginning of March, writingto the Planning Inspectorate’s Chief Executive reminding him that the decision as to whether or not to review Green Belt boundaries should be left to Local Authorities, and not imposed on them.
So is Green Belt development impossible?
Despite all those forces acting to protect Green Belt, it isn’t impossible to secure planning permission for sites in the Green Belt. There are four main options to be considered.
First, some types of development are allowed in Green Belt. This is typically uses like sports facilities and transport infrastructure, but it can also include small scale affordable housing schemes and any development that is supported by local residents through a Community Right to Build Order. What development is and isn’t allowed can be an area fraught with difficulties though, as a recent High Court Judgementconfirmed.
The second option is to demonstrate ‘very special circumstances.’ That means identifying an overwhelming reason as to why the proposed development must take place on that particular site, and that the harm caused would be outweighed by the significant benefits. This often relates to projects of national or regional significance.
Third, is the redevelopment of existing brownfield sites. If a site in the Green Belt is previously developed land, then planning policy allows it to be redeveloped. However, to make sure the openness of the Green Belt is protected, the amount of development is normally limited to the area and height of the existing buildings on site. Care also needs to be taken to understand whether the site actually is ‘previously developed land’ for planning purposes – not all buildings actually count.
Finally, development can be promoted through the local plan process with a view to having a site removed from Green Belt and allocated for some other use. While Nick Boles wants to leave the decision as to whether to review Green Belt boundaries to Local Authorities, as he clarified in a subsequent letter, they must still make every effort to meet their objectively assessed needs for housing and employment land. For example, if a Council decides it doesn’t want to release areas of Green Belt to meet its housing need, it should try to come to an arrangement with a neighbouring authority for that housing to be provided by them (under the ‘Duty to Cooperate’). As you might expect, such arrangements are far from common, pushing many Council’s into a review of Green Belt that they would perhaps rather not carry out.
What should you do?
The various routes to securing planning permission for Green Belt development are very much dependent on the characteristics of the site, and the stage the Council are at in preparing a Local Plan. Here at NJL Consulting, we have a wealth of experience of dealing with Green Belt sites and advising on the best route forward. So if you think we can help, please get in touch.
Image used courtesy of Redcoat on Flickr.