The History

One of the principal reasons for the creation of Green Belt was to create a permanent ring of countryside to control urban growth and stop the disastrous ribbon developments of the 1920s and 1930s.

There are 14 Green Belts in England and Wales, covering roughly 13% of total land area.

Oxford’s Green Belt

London had the first Green Belt.  In 1955 other cities recognised the merits of Green Belts and introduced them into their development plans. Oxford’s Green Belt was established in 1955, just over sixty years ago and was established to permanently protect the heritage and setting of this irreplaceable historic City.

Purposes of Green Belt

The purposes of Green Belts have been set out in government documents: first the Planning Policy Guidance: Green Belts (PPG2); then in 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which has now, July 2018 been revised. Section 13 is specific to Protecting Green Belt land, paragraphs 133 -147and all Local Plans are required to conform to this guidance.

Particularly pertinent sections of the NPPF are quoted below:

Paragraph 133:  The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence.

Paragraph 134:  The 5 basic purposes of Green Belts have remained unchanged:

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

Paragraph 136:  Once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans.

Possibly the most important changes in the revised Framework are those contained in paras 137 & 138:

  1. Before concluding that exceptional circumstances exist to justify changes to Green Belt boundaries, the strategic policy-making authority should be able to demonstrate that it has examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development. This will be assessed through the examination of its strategic policies, which will take into account the preceding paragraph, and whether the strategy:
  2. a) makes as much use as possible of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land;
  3. b) optimises the density of development in line with the policies in chapter 11 of this Framework, including whether policies promote a significant uplift in minimum density standards in town and city centres and other locations well served by public transport; and
  4. c) has been informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities about whether they could accommodate some of the identified need for development, as demonstrated through the statement of common ground.

Paragraph 138: Strategic policy-making authorities should consider the consequences for sustainable development of channelling development towards urban areas inside the Green Belt boundary, towards towns and villages inset within the Green Belt or toward locations beyond the outer Green Belt boundary. Where it has been concluded that it is necessary to release Green Belt land for development, plans should give first consideration to land which has been previously-developed and/or is well-served by public transport.

The above quoted from here.

The revisions follow from Prime Minister Theresa May speech of 5th March 2018 in which she emphasised the protection of Green Belt:

See here speech here:https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-making-housing-fairer-5-march

The Government’s earlier White Paper on Housing, Feb 2017, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ has stated:

1.37: Our Manifesto commits ours to be the first generation to leave the Natural environment better than we found it.

1.38: …The Government wants to retain a high bar to ensure the Green Belt remains protected, but we also wish to be transparent about what this means in practice so that local communities can hold their councils to account. 

Above quoted from Government White Paper found here

Plenty of Other Land to Build On

Around the time the White Paper came out Gavin Barwell, then Housing Minister, stated in his speech at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE)’s Annual Lecture:

‘Around 11% of the surface area of England is already developed. A further 13% is Green Belt. Allowing for the fact that 40% is covered by protective designations, such as national parks, there is still plenty of other land to build on without having to concrete over swathes of our precious green belt’.

See here

Green Belt Benefits City and Country Dwellers Alike 

In addition to the original 5 purposes of Green Belt, PPG2 recognised their role in certain other objectives, now widely accepted, including:

  • providing individuals with opportunities for recreation and engaging in outdoor sport close to urban areas (ie not football stadia)
  • giving protection to farmland
  • assisting nature conservation by defending habitats and wildlife corridors
  • protecting the individual and unique character of villages by saving them from absorption into cities 
  • improving the health or urban populations by safeguarding air quality (as the Green Belt is often referred to as a City’s “green lungs”) and by providing for healthy physical exercise in the countryside.