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Legal landscape: London must review its green belt policy

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The draft London Plan’s examination in public raised awkward questions about its blanket ban on green belt development, writes Martha Grekos

Following the public examination of the draft London Plan in 2019, the inspectors reached an “inescapable conclusion”: if London’s development needs are to be met, then a review of the Metropolitan Green Belt should be undertaken in the next London Plan. This should involve joint working with authorities around London’s administrative boundary, as well as the capital’s boroughs.

The inspectors stopped short of calling for the draft London Plan process to be paused so that new homes targets could be reassessed, and an immediate green belt review could take place. Any such delay would mean uncertainty for boroughs preparing local plans, would divert City Hall planners away from implementing the London Plan, and would encourage developers to delay plans for existing sites.

And, with a green belt review likely to take up to three years and a revised London Plan extended to be in place by 2024/2025, it was thought “better to proceed on the basis of the adopted plan rather than one that is in limbo”.

The Mayor of London would need to consider green belt release to deliver housing and industrial development that cannot be accommodated either in the existing built-up area or in adjoining areas. This is because, in its optimistic over-reliance on small sites, the current London Plan will fail to deliver the identified housing need of 65,000 homes a year.

The LSE’s analysis has even gone so far as to describe the target as “pure fantasy” in the absence of clear plans to turn potential capacity into delivery, a reliance on infrastructure as yet unbuilt and a refusal to review green belt designation or work with boroughs outside London on additional supply.

In brief

  • Inspectors examining the draft London Plan insisted on a future review of Metropolitan Green Belt to deliver housing 
  • In its absence they lowered London’s housing target 
  • They also found the plan’s green belt policy incompatible with the NPPF 
  • The mayor must bite the bullet and review green belt for the next London Plan


Revisiting brownfield

The inspectors propose a target of 52,000 homes a year should be adopted instead. They also said the London Plan’s blanket opposition to green belt development under policy G2 is inconsistent with the NPPF. policy G2, which says development proposals that would cause harm to the green belt should be refused, making no reference to very special circumstances.

"Of course a review of the green belt is definitely needed because the London Plan has maxmised brownfield capacity"

The blanket provision that de-designation will not be supported also ignores the NPPF reference to altering boundaries in exceptional circumstances through the preparation or review of local plans. The inspectors recommended that policy G2 be adjusted so that it is consistent with the NPPF.

It is fair to say that different approaches to doing a green belt review have been canvassed; there is also conflicting evidence about the extent of urban brownfield land and brownfield or other land within the green belt that might be suitable for sustainable development. The London Plan itself observes that some green belt land is derelict and unsightly and does not provide significant benefits. The inspectors state that “it is implausible to insist that the green belt is entirely sacrosanct without having considered what it comprises and the impact that it has on wider strategic objectives”.

Of course, a review of the green belt is definitely needed because the London Plan has maximised brownfield capacity. If we do not look strategically at the green belt, we move ever further from building the homes the capital needs.

Difficult choices

Yes, such a review is more likely to prove popular with planners than with national politicians or the public.

But it is time that such a review took place because the inspectors’ conclusions highlight the difficult choices London faces. We need to look at all options and also make sure that the London Plan policy is fundamentally consistent with the NPPF.

It is hard to predict what will happen, especially in light of the general election in December 2019 and London Mayoral election in May 2020. The only prediction that can be made is that uncertainty lies ahead, and that more delays are likely.  

Martha Grekos is a barrister and director of Martha Grekos Legal Consultancy Ltd

Image credit | iStock


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