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06/08/2018

‘Strategic shrinking’ of green belt as harmful as building on it, says CPRE

Words: Laura Edgar
Green belt review called for / iStock-638005198

Reviewing green belt boundaries as part of the local plan process should only take place in exceptional circumstances – but this ‘strategic shrinking’ of the green belt is as ‘harmful’ as building on it, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The campaign group’s annual State of the Green Belt report says there are currently 460,000 homes being planned that would be built on greenfield land that will soon be released from the green belt – or has been designated in local plans.

Of those houses planned for green belt land, CPRE says only 27 per cent meet the government’s definition of affordable.

Furthermore, according to the report, local authorities with green belt land have enough brownfield land for more than 720,000 homes and therefore “there is no reason for them not to be prioritising brownfield development”.

Because “one-third” of local authorities with green belt land face increased housing targets as a result of the new method for calculating housing demand laid out in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in July, the release of green belt land is set to continue, says CPRE.

The London Metropolitan Green Belt will be the “biggest casualty”.

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the CPRE, said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they sell off and gobble up the green belt to build low-density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live. The affordable housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency, while acknowledging that far from providing the solution, building on the green belt only serves to entrench the issue.”

The government, Fyans continued, is “failing” in its commitment to protect the green belt, which is being “eroded at an alarming rate”.

It is “essential, if the green belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and green belt protection strengthened”.


The report features a number of recommendations, including:

  • National and local planning policies and decision should recognise the green belt’s wide variety of benefits, but focus on ensuring that they continue to fulfil their purpose by:

-    Following through on commitments to strengthen the exceptional circumstances test by prioritising brownfield sites within the revised NPPF.

-    Committing to establishing long-term green belt boundaries, to be reviewed no more than every 15 years.

  • National government should develop clear guidance for local authorities on housing requirements to protect designated land and support the creation of new green belts where local authorities have established a clear need for them.

Katherine Evans, partner at law firm TLT, said: “The latest statistics show that green belt land saw a decrease of less than 0.05 per cent in 2016-2017.

"Despite what the name suggests the reality is that little of the green belt is valued for its landscape and some is already developed for a multitude of purposes."

The CPRE likes to characterise the green belt as ‘countryside next door’ but the reality is that little of the green belt is valued for its landscape and some is already developed for a multitude of purposes.”

Evans highlighted that the revised NPPF makes it clear that green belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, while a planning authority must be able to demonstrate that it has fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development.

“Extensions to boundaries and building on the green belt are only likely where the local authority has already made use of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land, optimised the density of development on existing land set aside for housing or has reached an agreement with a neighbouring local authority in order to take on some of its housing needs.

“While building more homes to tackle the housing crisis is one of the government’s main priorities, it is quite clear from the revised NPPF that this is not to be at the expense of the green belt. It’s worth keeping in mind that the drive to build new homes is taking place predominantly on brownfield and urban sites."

The National Community Land Trusts (CLT) Network highlighted that the CPRE report found that only 990 of the 7,600 homes rural communities need were built last year. To date, 840 CLT homes have been built, predominantly in rural areas.

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trusts (CLT) Network, said: “Community Land Trusts are thriving in rural areas. This is because local people have recognised them as a way to build the affordable homes that local people can actually afford, rather than more expensive homes.

“Many rural communities are coming up against school and shop closures that are threatening local life. The need for affordable housing has never been more serious. While many local authorities and parish councils are supporting CLTs to form and develop, we would like to see this going further.

“With local governments working with groups to find land there’s no reason why CLTs couldn’t help build the annual quota of rural homes needed.”

The State of the Green Belt report can be found on the CPRE website.

Image credit | iStock

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