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17/01/2019

Green belt may hold key to unlocking the UK’s housing woes

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If we're serious about building homes where they are most needed, we'll need to consider giving up a small portion of the green belt, says Sarah Clinch.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says nearly 5,000 hectares of England’s green belt was developed last year in a bid to meet ambitious housing targets. This figure may seem alarming, but if the figures are correct, this represents a loss of just 0.3 per cent of the green belt’s total 1.6 million hectares.

Many local authorities proactively plan to expand their existing towns into previously allocated green belt areas to create the best places for people to work and live.

Releasing green belt is an important part of solving the housing crisis so that homes can be built where they are most needed. When considering whether releasing green belt is justified we need to balance the function and importance of green belt land with other planning considerations.

“We need to balance the function and importance of green belt land with other planning considerations”

If plans are sustainable and promote the role and function of the green belt, and the alternatives available to local councils for meeting their housing needs are limited, then it can often be the best solution. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that green belt should “assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment” and “assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land”.

This supports the principle of developing brownfield land first to make the best use of previously developed land in urban areas before developing in the countryside.

This approach has been successful, particularly in the South East – so much so that the brownfield sites now available for development are few. In most local authorities, the total brownfield land available falls short of the land needed to deliver the required housing growth. This means greenfield locations, and sometimes the green belt, are required.

Another purpose of green belts is “to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas”. This is a spatial planning consideration that prevents unrestricted growth of large settlements. Settlements growing outwards will often achieve the most sustainable patterns of development, meaning it will be appropriate to amend green belt boundaries to support such growth. The NPPF provides the mechanism for this.

Amendments to the NPPF seeking to engage local people in this process provide opportunities for collaborative working and better engagement. The hope is that this will result in increased support for house building schemes, which could help to solve the UK’s housing crisis.

Sarah Clinch is a principal planner with WYG

Image credit | iStock

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