A new vision for the Green Belt


    The Landscape Institute, the UK body for the landscape profession, today publishes a briefing on the future of the Green Belt. Designed to address the current housing crisis, inform the debate on the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and provide a basis for the revisions to NPPF, it calls for completely fresh thinking on this most controversial of planning policies.

    The Landscape Institute calls on the government to undertake a strategic review of Green Belt policies and guidance as part of the proposed (2018) revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance. The original policy predates the current imperative for sustainable development and was neither adopted evenly across the country nor was it applied in a consistent way. We have a limited supply of open land in the UK, and we need it to achieve many things.  From encouraging healthy lifestyles and contact with nature, to reducing flood risk and air pollution, the land close to our towns and cities must be multi-functional.

    Landscape Institute President, Merrick Denton-Thompson said:

    ‘Our politicians frequently reconfirm their commitment to preserving the Green Belt. This is very misleading to the public because the periodic reviews of local plans are constantly eroding the Green Belt, through ‘death by a thousand cuts’.  The public deserve a system for protecting the Green Belt that they can trust.  We all want beautiful, functional green land around our towns and cities: a review which firmly re-establishes Green Belt principles might allow new development in some areas, but it equally could mean new Green Belts in places that don’t have them.’

    Landscape Institute Policy Committee Chair, Kate Bailey added:

    ‘Open land is a finite and irreplaceable asset in the UK. The Landscape Institute urges people to move away from the idea that Green Belt is good simply because it is there. Green Belt policy has been very effective in many locations over many years, preventing the ‘sprawl’ of towns and cities into open countryside.  However, there is little doubt that, if re-defined as natural capital, green infrastructure or strategic open space, the transformation and enrichment of Green Belt land could deliver far greater benefit than the current ‘spatial separation’ designation.

    ‘The Landscape Institute is committed to placing landscape at the heart of the current debate, embedding landscape principles into planning practice, and promoting a wider understanding of the potential social and environmental benefits that could be provided by the sustainable use and management of Green Belt land across the UK’.

    Green Belt policy fails to acknowledge pressing current issues such as flood risk, water quality, air pollution, social cohesion, health and wellbeing. The loss of both Structure Plans and Regional Spatial Plans, which enabled cross-boundary planning policies in many areas, has led to Green Belt reviews often failing to consider the wider needs of society, such as for climate change mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and the sustainable expansion of existing settlements.

    There are widespread inconsistencies, amongst the public and policy-makers, in their understanding of what Green Belt is, and what it is for. Green Belt has become a controversial topic, generating many apparent contradictions and disagreements on planning for housing development and perceived or real threats to the permanent openness of the Green Belt.

    Green Belt policy pre-dates the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2012) ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and was not revised or updated at the time the NPPF was adopted. Thus, as a single-issue designation, Green Belt does not sit well with current evidence-based policy-making and decision-taking. The proposed revision to NPPF (2018) provides an opportunity for government to update NPPF and to align Green Belt policy with current planning guidance.

    The LI believes that Green Belt policy has been highly effective in meeting the original aim of keeping land around towns and cities permanently open and undeveloped. However, as with any national policy, there is a need to reconsider its ongoing relevance as circumstances change.  We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the review of Green Belt policy via the current consultation on the revised National Planning Policy Framework.

    The LI will also call on the Welsh Government to undertake a strategic review of Green Belt policies and guidance as part of the proposed revisions to Planning Policy for Wales. And it will call on the Scottish Parliament to undertake a strategic review of Green Belt policies and guidance as part of the passage of the Planning Bill and as part of the review of Scottish Planning Policy and National Planning Framework 4.

    Read the briefing document here.

    For further information, please contact:

    Paul Lincoln, Landscape Institute
    020 7685 2646

    Note to editors

    1. The Landscape Institute is the chartered body for the landscape profession. It is an educational charity working to promote the art and science of landscape practice. The LI’s aim, through the work of its members, is to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the public benefit. The Landscape Institute provides a professional home for all landscape practitioners including landscape scientists, landscape planners, landscape architects, landscape managers and urban designers. landscapeinstitute.org
    2. Green Belt is a national planning policy in the UK, initially adopted to control the rapid growth of post-war housing estates around existing towns. The London Metropolitan Green Belt was first proposed in 1933. Circular 42/55, released by the government in 1955, encouraged local authorities to establish their own Green Belts.
    3. The government’s current policy for Green Belt is expressed in Section 9 of the NPPF 2012 (which is currently being reviewed), the fundamental aim being ‘to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open’. The strength of Green Belt policy is the robust principle that certain forms of built development, however small in scale, are inappropriate and should not be approved except in ‘very special circumstances’.
    4. Government guidance in the NPPF explains that the Green Belt serves five purposes:
    • 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; and
    • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other land.  Green Belt occurs in specifically designated areas around many, but not all, cities and towns in the UK. Most Green Belt land is in private ownership and is generally used for agriculture, recreation or forestry. There are 14 Green Belts designated in England, 1 in Wales, 13 in Scotland and 30 in Northern Ireland (see Appendix 2 of the Briefing Paper for further detail).
    1. Statistics are not available for all Green Belt land in the UK. However, in England, the extent of designated Green Belt at 31 March 2016 was estimated at 1,635,480 hectares. The total area has been decreasing in recent years with a net loss of approximately 2.5% in the decade between 2005 and 2015 and a further decrease of 1,020 hectares (less than 0.1%) between 31 March 2015 and 31 March 2016.  (Source: www.gov.uk.)


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