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What Is The Green Belt And How Does It Affect You?

What is a Green Belt?

A ‘green belt’ or ‘greenbelt’ site is an area of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land which surrounds larger cities. It’s identified in a Council’s Local Plan as an area which needs to be kept free of development. This stops the city from spreading and becoming any larger (urban sprawl).
(Note: A green belt site is different to a greenfield site which just refers to an area of land that hasn’t previously been developed. Green belt sites are almost always greenfield sites, but greenfield sites aren’t always green belt sites.)

Other objectives of the green belt policy are to:

  • Prevent neighbouring towns from merging together

  • Protect the unique character of rural communities that might otherwise be absorbed by expanding suburbs

  • Protect natural or semi-natural environments;

  • Ensure that urban dwellers have access to the countryside

  • Improve air quality within urban areas

  • Encourage development within existing built-up areas

Green belts in England

London’s Green Belt

The green belt around London is called the ‘Metropolitan Green Belt’. It comprises parts of Greater London and the six adjoining ‘home counties’ (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey), parts of two of the three districts of the small county of Bedfordshire and a small area in Copthorne, Sussex.

The first major proposals for the green belt were put forward from 1890, but the first to gain widespread support was put forward by the London Society (LS) in its Development Plan of Greater London 1919. The Metropolitan Green Belt was eventually formally proposed by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee in 1935, “to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space” and was defined and in place from around 1952. The Metropolitan Green Belt is subject to minor annual variations, and covers an area approximately three times larger than London.

A green belt site is different to a greenfield site which just refers to an area of land that hasn’t previously been developed. Green Belt sites are almost always greenfield sites, but greenfield sites aren’t always Green Belt sites.

Can I build on green belt land?

Generally, no. The green belt is protected from most forms of development and approval should only be given in very special circumstances if the purpose of development is appropriate to a rural area.

However, it is still possible to apply to the local planning authority to request planning permission on a green belt site or to request that green belt land is released for housing.

The map below shows current development proposals to London’s Green Belt

Map developed as part of a partnership project between the London Green Belt Council and CPRE branches in Herts, Essex, Kent, Beds, Bucks, Berks, Surrey and London. 


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How can I get planning permission for green belt land?

Getting planning permission for housing development on green belt sites is one of the hardest objectives to achieve under our planning system but it’s not impossible.

There are three main routes that can be considered:

  1. Appropriate Developments
    If buildings are already incorporated within a green belt site then ‘infilling’ a small gap between existing buildings can be acceptable. Also, if the new development wouldn’t have a greater impact on the ‘openness’ of the green belt than the buildings which it’s replacing, then applications are normally acceptable. Otherwise you could consider an eco-home development. As per Para 55 of the National Planning Policy framework, green belt planning permission can be granted for ‘truly outstanding and innovative’ developments that ‘raise the standard of design’.

  2. Very Special Circumstances
    Development can be allowed if you are able to show that there are ‘very special circumstances’ why it needs to take place.Essentially this means showing why there is no other site where that development can take place.

  3. Exceptional Circumstances
    In most cases, the exceptional circumstances are usually that the amount of development necessary to meet a Council’s needs simply doesn’t fit on the non-green belt sites that are available. The council will look at areas of the green belt that could be considered for development and this gives land owners the opportunity to promote their sites through the local planning process to try to convince the Council that their site should be identified for development. This type of approach is known as ‘strategic land promotion’ and takes a long time (5-10 year process).


How can I find out if my land is in a green belt?

You should contact your local planning authority to find out if your land is in a green belt area, and any policies or restrictions that may apply as a result.

You can find the contact details for your local planning authority on the Planning Portal.

If you have any questions about planning an extension and potential issues with green belt sites, or just questions about creating your dream home in general, go ahead and book a free call below with Yoop.


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