Green Belt – is the belt getting tighter?

09th February 2017
By Mandy Owen

Early indications and discussions surrounding the Housing White Paper (HWP) anticipated an initiative on Green Belt release.  This failed to materialise.  But the HWP is not silent on the Green Belt issue.

The HWP sets out that ‘authorities should amend Green Belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options…’.  ‘Other reasonable options’ include development of brownfield sites, efficient use of current underused sites, optimising densities and through exploring whether other authorities can help to meet housing need.  So does this tighten Green Belt protection?

One question to consider is whether this actually differs from current practice.  It is certainly the case that an increasing number of local planning authorities (LPAs) are proposing amendments to Green Belt boundaries within emerging Local Plans.  These amendments tend to follow extensive studies and consideration of all alternative options now falling under the heading of ‘other reasonable options’ in the HWP. 

Therefore it could be argued that, rather than tightening Green Belt policy, the HWP articulates the current approach (i.e Local authorities are already doing this).  However, a notable (and positive) addition is that when reviewing Green Belts, LPAs should look first at land surrounding transport hubs as well as previously developed land.

Further, the process of examining all ‘other reasonable options’ does provide a framework for considering Green Belt release where there are no alternatives, and could therefore be seen as a  positive measure, that arguably does not breach the Conservative’s manifesto commitment to protect the Green Belt.

However, there are some concerns here.  At a time when the focus is on delivery, this approach will inevitably result in further delays to emerging Local Plans, particularly in Green Belt authorities, as clarification is awaited on the exact changes to the NPPF.  This concern is amplified through other proposals including the likely introduction of a new standardised approach to calculating OAN.

It is not yet clear how a LPA will “demonstrate” that all other reasonable options have been examined to justify amending Green Belt boundaries.  Clear procedures and tests will be required to bring this into effect.

The HWP also proposes changes to NPPF Green Belt policy such as compensation for loss of Green Belt land, (via improvements to its environmental quality or accessibility, for example by providing community forests, nature reserves or allotments) and the possibility of higher contributions from development on former Green Belt land.   However, until there is clear guidance on the implementation of such measures, this could further delay plan preparation in Green Belt areas and consequently the delivery of housing in areas of acute housing need (although we don’t think that delay is necessary or justified). 

The HWP also proposes to allow neighbourhood plans to amend Green Belt boundaries (although the general extent of the Green Belt would remain a strategic matter).

Therefore at first glance the HWP does not appear dissimilar to the current approach to reviewing Green Belt.  However, it has the potential to further delay the preparation of Local Plans in Green Belt areas, which could undermine the fundamental aim of the HWP to provide more homes. 


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