Planning and the Green Belt: Everything you need to know

The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. But could rethinking Green Belt policy be the key to solving our housing crisis?

November 8, 2023

Since its inception in 1955, the Green Belt has been instrumental in preventing urban sprawl and maintaining open land for agriculture, forestry, and leisure - acting as a natural buffer between towns and the countryside.

However, the pressing demand for housing has sparked a debate: Can the strategic development of Green Belt contribute to a solution?

How big is the Green Belt?

Right now, England's Green Belt is a sprawling area of about 1.6 million hectares — that's roughly 16.4 billion square meters — making up 12.6% of the country's land.

The Green Belt is clustered around 15 urban cores, the largest being London (5,062km2), Merseyside and Greater Manchester (2,489km2), and South and West Yorkshire (including Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford, 2,270km2).

Green Belt land as shown on Searchland platform

What does Green Belt do?

The government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) explains that the Green Belt serves five purposes:

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

How is Green Belt land used?

In the past, the government’s Planning Policy Guidance for the use of land in Green Belts (PPG2) was well defined:

  • To provide opportunities for access to open countryside for the urban population
  • To provide opportunities for outdoor sports and recreation near urban areas
  • To retain attractive landscapes, and enhance landscapes, near where people live
  • To improve damaged and derelict land around towns
  • To secure nature conservation interest
  • To retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses

A spacial planning tool

It's important to remember that Green Belt functions primarily as a spatial planning tool helping manage urban growth, rather than acting as a guardian of the landscape's natural beauty. So, while it's easy to think that all the open spaces and fields outside our towns are part of the Green Belt, that's not always true. 

Planning policy and development

Building within the Green Belt isn't simple. Unlike other areas where sustainable development is often encouraged, here developers need to make a strong case for why their building plans should be approved. This strict approach is what keeps the Green Belt so tightly regulated.

Planning permission on the Green Belt

Building big new housing projects on Green Belt land is extremely rare. But that doesn't mean all development is restricted. There are a few things the government allows through permitted development rights. Here's what's allowed:

  • Extensions: Properties may be extended by up to 8 meters if detached, or 6 meters if semi-detached or terraced, respecting neighbour's' privacy and the character of the area.
  • Outbuildings: Sheds, garages, and similar structures are permissible, provided they adhere to size regulations and are not intended for use as living spaces.
  • Changes of Use: Certain buildings, particularly agricultural ones, may be converted to residential use, contributing to local housing supply without new construction.
  • Solar Panels: Installation of solar panels is supported to promote sustainable energy, subject to aesthetic and safety considerations.
  • Porches: Porches may be added to properties, as long as they conform to size limitations and do not impinge on public spaces or road safety.

The future of development on the Green Belt

Reclassifying just 1% of Green Belt land could unlock the potential for 738,000 new homes. This potential sits at the heart of the Green Belt development debate, juxtaposing the urgency of the housing crisis against the idea of conservation. 

However, proposed changes to the NPPF (published in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill consultation outcome in September 2023) make it even more difficult to get plans approved for development on the Green Belt.

As we look to the future of Green Belt areas, it's crucial to engage in a dialogue that weighs the value of these lands against the nation's housing needs. The outcome of this will shape not only the landscape of England but also the framework for sustainable urban living for generations to come.

To get started,  jump on a demo with our team so they can show you our full set of features.

May 9, 2024

Stay up to date with our insights

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
We can’t wait to get you on board

Request a demo and free trial

Searchland has significantly reduced the amount of time it takes us to analyse new opportunities.
Planning Consultant

Book a demo or free trial

One of our experts can walk you through the platform in a live session, one-to-one.

Request a demo