The future of the planning system in England Contents

11Green Belt


204.The Green Belt dates to 1947 and has remained largely unreviewed throughout the post-war era. The Government White Paper in 2020 stated that “The existing policy for protecting the Green Belt would remain.” They added “it would be possible for authorities to agree an alternative distribution of their requirement in the context of joint planning arrangements.”698 There was criticism of the perceived neglect of the Green Belt in the White Paper.699 There were accordingly calls for details on what would be the “exceptional circumstances” in which Green Belt could be released for development through Local Plans.700

Support for the Green Belt

205.Our public engagement survey received numerous strong expressions of support for the Green Belt. Survey respondents opined that “Green belt should always stay as green belt and never be built on” and that “Brown field should be exhausted until green belt building is even considered”. There were various submissions urging that the Green Belt needed to be protected and promoted,701 and should be extended.702 The latter wish reflected fears about its reputed recent reduction. The Heritage Alliance stated there had been a 62% increase in the loss of “greenfield Green Belt land” since 2013.703 There has been a net reduction in Green Belt of 2.2% since 1997.704 The CPRE called for “stronger planning policies to support enhancement of the Green Belt.” They proposed closing loopholes in Green Belt, giving greater attention to the management of Green Belt land to enhance health and wellbeing, and prioritising brownfield sites. They warned against swaps of land when some it removed from the Green Belt.705 We were told the “Green Belt is good, positive planning” stopping urban sprawl and ensuring countryside near to cities.706 It was also suggested to us that Green Belts could become “carbon-negative sink for city emissions” with high environmental standards and mass tree planting.707

The function and purpose of the Green Belt

206.We were told that there is considerable misunderstanding about the purpose and function of green belt, including that people often conflated Green Belt and green fields,708 and overlook its original purpose having been to keep urban areas apart.709 It was pointed out that there are many Green Belts across the country serving different purposes.710 Brian Berry, acknowledging the emotive nature of Green Belt, argued “It is not all lush, green land. It is some scrubland” that could be developed by small builders.711

Should the Green Belt be reviewed?

207.We received numerous calls for reviews of the Green Belt.712 There was only one submission proposing the outright abolition of the Green Belt.713 Instead Professor Vincent Goodstadt declared “In the national housing debate [it] is now the over-riding political football which consistently reverts to a debate about releasing land from the Green Belt.”714 One councillor told us the Green Belt was “an anti-growth mechanism” that drove up building heights and housing costs, echoing the language of the green belt as a “straightjacket” used in another submission.715 Steve Quartermain proclaimed himself a “big fan” of Green Belt, and did not wish to undermine it, but added “you have to question whether or not some of the existing green-belt boundaries are still appropriate. There is scope for a wider review of the green belt, mainly to re-establish the purpose of green belt,” namely to keep settlements apart.716 Claire Dutch echoed those calls, arguing “it is time for a grown-up conversation about the green belt. It has been a taboo subject for so long … The fact we have green belt within the M25 quite frankly seems bonkers, and we need to look at this again.”717 There was disagreement over the level at which such reviews should take place: at local authority or neighbourhood plan level,718 or at a sub-national or “strategic” level,719 or at a national level.720

208.These calls for review often linked to a wish to develop Green Belt land. This included for affordable housing, to facilitate shorter commutes,721 to build data centres and logistic facilities, and extract minerals.722 This fed into the idea of permitting ‘transport corridors’, championed by the RTPI, where development is permitted near to railway stations. The Centre for Cities argued this could deliver 1.6 to 2.1 million homes.723 Savills proposed permitting garden towns/villages/communities in the Green Belt.724 The Yimby Alliance urged increased use of existing powers permitting parishes to authorise more houses (where they would not connect with other settlements) of an agreed design in the Green Belt.725 It was suggested that the Green Belt should be subject to the “same tests of soundness” as any other Local Plan policy.726 Contrastingly, the National Trust saw a review as a way for the Government to consider how Green Belt could deliver more public benefit, biodiversity, and local nature recovery networks.727

209.We asked the Minister whether the Government had shut the door to a review of Green Belt policy. He highlighted that the Green Belt was designed to stop urban sprawl and there was a manifesto commitment to maintain the Green Belt. He argued that the renewal zones and financial support for brownfield regeneration would avoid the need to encroach on “important green spaces that we know communities, yours and mine, feel very strongly about.”728

210.We agree with evidence that called for the protection of the green spaces in the Green Belt; whilst also recognising that not all Green Belt land are green spaces. A review should examine the purpose of the Green Belt, including whether it continues to serve that purpose, how the public understand it, what should be criteria for inclusion, and what additional protections might be appropriate. The creation of new Local Plans also provides an opportunity for local reviews of Green Belts and the Government should help identify those local authorities where such reviews are particularly urgent. Local Plans can also relieve pressure on Green Belts by prioritising developments on brownfield sites. The Government should ensure there is sufficient funding provided to support their decontamination.

Metropolitan Open Land

211.There was also emphasis placed on the importance of protecting Metropolitan Open Land in London, and other green spaces in urban areas. The Heritage Alliance was concerned that green spaces not in protected spaces were vulnerable.729 The GLA called for the same protections that apply to Green Belt to apply for Metropolitan Open Land, including consideration when settling housing targets.730

212.Given the demands for additional housing in urban areas, and the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic about the importance of green spaces for people dwelling in cities and large towns, it is concerning that the Government White Paper did not confirm the same protections for Metropolitan Open Land as for Green Belt Land. We therefore recommend that the Government extend the same protections that are provided under any new planning system to Metropolitan Open Land as apply for Green Belt.

699 CLA (FPS0049), Civic Voice (FPS0076)

700 National Housing Federation (FPS0158)

701 Mr Daniel Scharf (Consultant at PfT Planning) (FPS0002), Rother Association of Local Councils (RALC) (FPS0012), TCPA (FPS0034), St Albans Civic Society (FPS0057), Richard Harwood OBE QC (Joint Head of Chambers at 39 Essex Chambers) (FPS0059), CPRE the countryside charity (FPS0077), Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FPS0081), Historic England (FPS0092), POETS (Planning Oxfordshire’s Environment and Transport Sustainably) (FPS0108), The Beaconsfield Society (Civic Society) (FPS0130), National Trust (FPS0157), Q62 (Lisa Fairmaner)

702 NALC (FPS0021), Ashford KALC (Combined parish, town and community organisations in the borough of Ashford, Kent) (FPS0060)

703 NALC (FPS0021), K Paulson (FPS0024), The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066)

704 MHCLG, Local authority green belt statistics for England: 2019 to 2020, 10 September 2020. See the tab ‘Area since 1997’ in Accompanying tables: total area and net changes to the green belt by local authority district 2019–20 (annual).

705 CPRE - The Countryside Charity (FPS0165)

706 National Organisation of Residents Associations (FPS0005), Hever Parish Council (FPS0007)

707 Mr Richard Gilyead (FPS0022). See also Wildlife & Countryside Link (FPS0075)

708 Tamworth Borough Council (FPS0013), Homes for the South West (FPS0070). See also Urban Vision Enterprise CIC, D2H Land Planning Development (FPS0037)

709 Q105 (Steve Quartermain). See also Inspired Villages (FPS0167)

710 Charted Institute of Building (FPS0096)

711 Q27 (Brian Berry)

712 CLA (FPS0049), Prof Vincent Goodstadt (FPS0058), Home Builders Federation (FPS0073), Peel L&P (FPS0094), Bartlett School of Planning, University College London (FPS0097), Stonewater (FPS0103), The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) (FPS0125), British Property Federation (FPS0127), Emeritus Professor Tony Crook; Hon Professor Vincent Goodstadt; Emeritus Professor Christine Whitehead; Emeritus Professor John Henneberry; Hon Professor Janice Morphet; Professor Cecilia Wong; Professor Malcolm Tait; Hon Professor Kevin Murray; Professor Gavin Parker; Professor Nick Gallent (FPS0131), Land Promoters and Developers Federation (FPS0138), Paul G. Tucker QC (FPS0153), Q25 (Brian Berry)

713 PricedOut (FPS0129)

714 Prof Vincent Goodstadt (FPS0058)

715 Land Promoters and Developers Federation (FPS0138), LSE London (FPS0139)

716 Q105 (Steve Quartermain)

717 Q107 (Claire Dutch)

718 Institute of Historic Building Conservation (FPS0044), Local Government Association (FPS0056), Abri (FPS0078), Locality (FPS0086), The Chartered Institute of Building (FPS0096), Stonewater (FPS0103)

719 Prof Vincent Goodstadt (FPS0058), Savills (FPS0101), Emeritus Professor Tony Crook; Hon Professor Vincent Goodstadt; Emeritus Professor Christine Whitehead; Emeritus Professor John Henneberry; Hon Professor Janice Morphet; Professor Cecilia Wong; Professor Malcolm Tait; Hon Professor Kevin Murray; Professor Gavin Parker; Professor Nick Gallent (FPS0131)

720 Home Builders Federation (FPS0073), Dr Tim Marshall (emeritus professor of planning at Oxford Brookes University) (FPS0079), District Councils’ Network (FPS0082), British Property Federation (FPS0127)

721 Q25 (Kate Henderson) Q26 (Philip Barnes)

722 Mineral Products Association (FPS0050), Ark Data Centres (FPS0063), Hill Homes Developments Ltd (FPS084), British Property Federation (FPS0127), GL Hearn (FPS0141), Centre for Cities (FPS0144)

723 Royal Town Planning Institute (FPS0113), Cllr Andrew Wood (Canary Wharf ward Councillor at LB Tower Hamlets) (FPS0137), Centre for Cities (FPS0144)

724 Savills (FPS0101)

725 YIMBY Alliance, London YIMBY, Oxford YIMBY, Brighton YIMBY, PricedOut, Cambridge YIMBY (FPS0017)

726 Prof Vincent Goodstadt (FPS058), Savills (FPS0101), Emeritus Professor Tony Crook; Hon Professor Vincent Goodstadt; Emeritus Professor Christine Whitehead; Emeritus Professor John Henneberry; Hon Professor Janice Morphet; Professor Cecilia Wong; Professor Malcolm Tait; Hon Professor Kevin Murray; Professor Gavin Parker; Professor Nick Gallent (FPS0131)

727 Q106 (Ingrid Samuel)

728 Q156 (The Minister)

729 The Heritage Alliance (FPS0066)

730 Greater London Authority (FPS0149). See also Just Space (FPS0115), London Forum of Amenity & Civic Societies (FPS0156), Q62 (Lisa Fairmaner)

Published: 10 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement