Green Belt - How Do We Develop It (and Safeguard It), For The Future?

Issue 96

By Neil Turner, Director, Howarth Litchfield

I wrote in Northern Insight last year about green belts and how and what should happen to them. Last year we had two Conservative candidates in Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss with very different views on how to get development moving forward.

Fast forward a year and we have Labour advocating development in the green belt and developing 1.5m new homes over five years in comparison to the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap national house building targets.

So, without being political, how are we going to achieve this and how is development in the green belt ever going to be possible.

Green areas have been appreciated since the Victorians built parks for workers to enjoy. The advent of trains allowed people to easily travel outside the towns. The term green belt was invented in the 1920s and seen as a buffer zone between the commercial zones of towns and their residential areas. In the 1930s local authorities bought land around London and created a green belt. It was only post war when we had the 1947 Planning Act, which allowed the green belts as we know them to be created in the planning circular of 1955.

I think it is good to have a sensible modern debate on what is applicable and appropriate in the countryside. It is not meant to be a total no to development.

The current planning system allows exemptions and development (in green belt zones); however, the system is adversarial and slow, with each local authority often interpreting matters in very different ways.

Last year I said development should be allowed in the green belt. To get the right balance I would place a higher bar on development standards, in terms of the standard of architectural design and for specific purposes. I do not want to see generic houses across the fields, but beautiful well considered housing estates can (and should) fit in.

The ability to build should not be just social housing, but housing at all levels and values to create the variety we all need to accommodate all of society’s needs. Wiser people than I, are better placed to decide how that might be calculated.

Innovation and experimental houses (known as Paragraph 80 houses) are incredibly hard to pass through planning but when built, can help mass housing improve through greater knowledge of building techniques, insulation, and heating systems.

We need to encourage business in the countryside, and I would advocate changes to current laws to actively encourage working opportunities. Then housing can naturally follow when there is a real need for people to live locally.

We must develop land and brown field first in our urban areas and therefore planning should encourage this first and foremost, before looking at countryside. My simple suggestion is that the green belt should then be graded, perhaps with different greens. This would make it far clearer regarding land adjacent to towns and cities what type of development might be considered acceptable. I would also make clear those areas, special or historic, that are too important to be touched.

We must look to alter the current system, which is so black and white, with its polarising positions to a graded or blended position on a ‘varying green belt’. I think this would assist our town planners and local authorities in guiding sustainable development for the future.

Neil Turner, director, Howarth Litchfield can be contacted on 0191 3849470 or email

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