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Green Belt myths busted! How to develop your Green Belt home



Green Belt myths busted! How to develop your Green Belt home

Base Senior Associate Joe Salt is a RIBA qualified architect, town planner and MRTPI (Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute). In this regular column, he takes a look at key planning issues and shares his experience and advice. This month he busts some myths about developing in the Green Belt.

Two words that can strike fear into the heart of any novice developer. Green Belt. There is always plenty of chatter in the press about the Green Belt and it is a politician’s favourite bandwagon. But in reality the concept of the Green Belt is much misunderstood and misreported. And you needn’t be fearful of it.

The Green Belt was a post-war concept introduced by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, starting initially around London to prevent the urban sprawl of the growing metropolis. It actually only covers about 12.4% of England (the Welsh equivalent is known as Green Wedge) and is focussed on a fairly limited number of areas, principally around London and the south-east, but also in the counties surrounding Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool (and a hefty chunk of the north west), Newcastle, Bristol, York and south-east Dorset. Anywhere else and it won’t be green belt you’re looking at but is more likely to be plain old ‘open countryside’.

Confusingly, the name ‘green belt’ conjures up a vision of a pastoral idyll – England’s green and pleasant land. And whilst this might be true of an area in an AONB or a National Park there are in fact plenty of scruffy and unsightly brownfield sites that are located in the green belt. The Green Belt is not a landscape designation and so it’s boundaries sometimes do not reflect physical or natural patterns ‘on the ground’.

The crucial thing to understand is that it is ‘openness’ that matters in the green built – not beauty. This means literally how open the land is, not how attractive it looks. The national planning policy framework, updated in July 2021 dictates that the green belt exists not for reasons of beauty but to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas, to prevent neighbouring towns merging into each other, to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment, the preserve the setting and special character of historic towns, and to assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

There are various loopholes in planning terms that can be exploited in the green belt, but if the proposal doesn’t conform to the Green Belt exceptions the potential benefits of any development must clearly outweigh the ‘harm’ that such development would pose to ‘openness’ in terms of the planning balance. Housing need alone is usually not enough to overcome the perceived harm. 

The legislation will, however, also allow a gap in the streetscene in a green belt settlement to be infilled with new dwelling, and for agricultural buildings, including stables, to be erected (and potentially converted one day). A dwelling for an essential rural worker can be built if the need is proven, whilst existing derelict buildings can be converted into residential dwellings in the green belt. Additionally, a ‘Grand Designs’ property can be built if it meets the tests set out in Paragraph 84 (Paragraph 80 as was) of the National Planning Policy Framework.

One thing many people don’t realise is that if you own an existing property in the green belt your permitted development rights remain unaffected (unlike in an AONB, Conservation Areas or National Parks) and there is much you can do to maximise the volume of your property, including outbuildings, if you live in the green belt. This includes adding extra storeys and extending to the side and rear by a not-insubstantial amount.

Extensions allowed by permitted development can also subsequently be traded in for brand new replacement development of the same volume on the same site so it is worth talking to us to establish the exact route by which a larger property might be achieved in this way.

One last thing to remember: It is local councils and not central government that determines where green belt boundaries go, and these are not set in stone.  With increasing pressure on a finite supply of developable land that has been generated by a growing population and increasing housing needs, councils are at liberty to remove areas of green belt and make them available up for development as part of the process of reviewing the local plan for an area, which is done every few years.  Likewise if a council does not have a demonstrable supply of housing land for the next five years then green belt sites that would previously have been refused permission for development can become fair game. 

Opening up dialogue with planning policy departments and informing them that you have land available for future development is another opportunity developers can make use of in order to secure the future development potential of a site – it might take a while, but it can pay off in the long run. Get in touch and we can advise accordingly!

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