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MHCLG stats show small year-on-year decrease in green belt

Words: Laura Edgar
Green belt / iStock-506861544

England green belt totalled 1,629,510 hectares as of March 2018, which accounts for 12.5 per cent of the land area of England, according to statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

The March 2018 figure is a slight decrease from the period ending March 2017, when there were 1,634,580 hectares. This was revised down from the previous estimate published in September 2017 (1,634,700ha).

According to MHCLG, 10 local authorities adopted new local plans that involved a change in their area of green belt, which accounts for the fall seen in the ministry’s figures.

Coventry and Warwick contributed over 50 per cent of the change between them. MHCLG note that Warwick’s change is small in terms of its total green belt, while Coventry’s amount of green belt has halved, with the council citing that a significant proportion has been designated as Local Green Space and is therefore afforded the same level of protection.

Eight other local authorities with local plans also saw a reduction in green belt. These are:

  • Cheltenham;
  • Cheshire East;
  • Croydon;
  • Dacorum;
  • Sefton;
  • Sunderland;
  • Sutton; and
  • Tewkesbury.

Green belt land is distributed around 15 urban cores. The largest two areas are the Metropolitan Green Belt (around London) and Liverpool, Manchester and West Yorkshire, accounting for 32 and 31 per cent respectively.

Tables accompanying the release suggest that in 1997, there was 1,652,310 hectares of green belt land, less than there is now, something an MHCLG spokesperson pointed out.

“The green belt is bigger today than in 1997.

“We are committed to delivering the homes our country needs but that doesn’t mean building all over the green belt .

“That’s why we have strengthened green belt protection through the publication of our revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) earlier this year.

“Under this planning authorities have to demonstrate they have exhausted all other reasonable options to meet development needs before even considering changes to the green belt and then evidence exceptional circumstances to justify development.”

The statistical release can be found here on the MHCLG website (pdf).


Rebecca Pullinger, planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “National planning rules require local councils to show exceptional circumstances when they remove land from the green belt. These statistics illustrate that since 2012 such changes are no longer exceptional.

“For too long housebuilders have been able to use land as a tool to manipulate and monopolise the market only to serve their own interests. The government must stop heaping pressure on councils to deliver unrealistic targets that result in the green belt being chipped away. Instead, developers should be held more accountable to deliver the homes that they have promised.

“Building within or on land released from the green belt is not the solution; it results in low-density, unaffordable homes, out of reach of those who desperately need to get a foot on the ladder.”

Jason Lowes, planning partner at Rapleys, said: “Fundamentally, what these statistics show is that fears that the green belt is rapidly disappearing just aren’t reflected in the facts. Any reduction in designated green belt area identified is actually very small in practice, and more than half of it is concentrated in two local authorities.

“Drilling down further, it is interesting to see that the local authority responsible for the largest reduction in green belt is actually utilising new rules under the NPPF to re-designate land as Local Green Space, which affords similar levels of protection to the green belt but is more suited to the realities on the ground – this makes up more than half of the reduction in this instance. What is clear is that, for now at least, there is certainly very little evidence of widespread greying of the green in practice.”

Read more:

Green belt shrinks owing to inclusion in eight local plans

Landscape Institute calls for green belt review

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

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