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Let's talk about the green belt

Green land

How do we resolve conflicting views on the green belt in a way that enables a degree of development where it's most needed? Capturing land value for the benefit of affected communities is a start, says Shelter UK's Toby Lloyd.

Toby LloydThe green belt is the best known and most totemic aspect of the English planning system, but is often misrepresented by both defenders and detractors.

From its 1947 beginnings, the policy has never been aimed at environmental protection. Green belts were created to stop sprawl and incentivise urban regeneration.

Without them, the incentive on developers would always be to build where profits are easiest to come by.

There is also no denying that some of the best locations for housing are now in the green belt. But 
any relaxation of national policy could be unpopular. Worse, it could be ineffective, triggering a wave of land speculation and ill-planned development.

"Green belts were created to stop sprawl and incentivise urban regeneration"

Shelter believes that neither fetishising nor scrapping the green belt is credible. Instead, we need an approach that can:

Preserve green space round cities to stop ‘creeping development’ at the urban fringe;
Improve local people’s access to green space;
Concentrate urban growth into a small number of appropriate locations; and
Capture the gains in land value that development creates for public benefit, for infrastructure and affordable housing.

By suppressing land prices in profitable locations, green belts have created an opportunity to release huge increases in land value if planning permission is granted. That value can be captured to benefit communities by paying for infrastructure, services and affordable housing.

The government should repeal the recent guidance giving green belts maximum protection, returning it to NPPF status. Authorities should review green belts and identify areas for housing, while protecting green belt areas with the highest environmental value and improving public access to them by creating country parks.

Community land trusts and rural exception sites have long operated on the principle of releasing land from planning constraint on the basis that the value created is captured for locals’ benefit.

Lord Taylor proposed amending the New Towns Act to allow local authorities powers to create new garden villages.

Shelter and KPMG outlined a model for New Homes Zones to speed development and capture land value uplift on brownfield sites or urban extensions.

URBED’s Wolfson Prize-winning proposal examined taking ‘a confident bite’ out of the green belt to grow small, successful cities such as York.

The time is right for a serious discourse.

Toby Lloyd is head of policy at Shelter UK


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