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Transforming the Green Belt

04 June 2018 Author: Merrick Denton-Thompson

The Landscape Institute is calling for a strategic review of Green Belt policy.  We accept that the reasons for the original legislation are even more acute today, but despite political support, it is not serving the interests of the public.

Green Belt designation pre-dates the sustainable development imperative, and it was neither adopted across the whole country, nor applied consistently. Furthermore, the Green Belt boundaries are constantly being amended through numerous periodic reviews of Local Plans. There are legitimate concerns about some parts of the Green Belt preventing the best use of infrastructure and restricting legitimate growth of some of our towns.

The designation of Green Belt is a land use planning tool to prevent development. The process of designation failed to identify either appropriate land use or the best form of land management of the Green Belt. Nor was there an opportunity to enhance the quality of the Green Belt.

Are single-issue designations still useful?

Today, with increasing pressure on all land, we question whether we can accept single-issue designations.  With the proposed new Environmental Land Management programme it is time to secure a multi-functional use of rural land, especially in the urban fringe, close to where most of us live.

We recommend that the NPPF review consider a series of radical changes to Green Belt policies, starting with:

  • Scrutiny of overall boundaries by landscape and planning professionals, through a pre-set collection of determining criteria.
  • Ensuring the original intent of the designation is secured by applying these criteria consistently, bearing in mind the new imperative to secure sustainable development. This may result in more development, but it will be independent of local plans and any pre-conceived development aspirations.
  • Strengthening the protection of the resulting boundaries by introducing protection in perpetuity, with the obvious proviso that it can be overruled in the national interest by the Secretary of State.
  • Promoting new Green Belt designation elsewhere in the country under the same criteria of preventing coalescence and sprawl of towns and cities. This would ensure that the legislation is accessible to the whole of society, across a country under development pressure.

We also strongly recommend that enabling policies are put in place to transform the quality of the landscape of the Green Belt and to secure its ongoing management. We propose a Green Belt Levy and investment from the new ‘Net Gain’ approach to development in our towns and cities. (At the same time there may be new public investment coming into force when we replace the Common Agricultural Policy.)

Green Belt management needs stronger emphasis on sustainability 

Management Plans for Green Belt areas should aim to secure the following improvements:

  • a new emphasis on sustainable food growing for local consumption;
  • ways to reconnect urban people with food growing;
  • the production of clean water, clean air and restored soils;
  • an urban fringe teeming with wildlife;
  • improved access for health and wellbeing, placing a special emphasis on meeting the needs of young people;
  • securing a resilient landscape that protects people from extreme climatic events and ensuring biosecurity; and
  • strengthening the distinctive variations in landscape character, making use of the National Character Areas prepared by Natural England as the framework for agenda setting and delivery.

Finally, we strongly recommend the establishment of modernised Joint Advisory Committees for Green Belt areas, for accountability and to ensure that the needs of local communities and landowners are being met.


Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Editor’s note: The RTPI led a debate among members on the location housing and published a policy statement Where should we build new homes in November 2016. The statement says that “green belt boundaries may well need to change, but only after a careful review over wider areas than single local authorities, where safeguards are put in place to ensure development is sustainable, affordable and delivered in a timely manner, and without prejudice to the renewal of brownfield land”.

Merrick Denton-Thompson

Merrick Denton-Thompson

Merrick Denton-Thompson OBE FLI is the President of the Landscape Institute.