The green belt is a planning policy to reduce urban sprawl, encourage the regeneration of brown field sites and help to safeguard the countryside. The green belt is recognised as having a number of important functions including, providing space for growing food; recreation and conserving nature.
Local authorities can release land from the green belt for development through a review of a local plan: however, the 2018 revision of the National Planning Policy Framework states that green belt boundaries should only be altered in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and the planning authority must demonstrate that it has considered all other options to meet its development needs. However, with local councils under pressure to build more homes, there is concern that more green belt land will be released for development in future years. Furthermore, in cases where councils are not able to fulfil their housing targets, developers can argue for green belt land to be released, especially if their development cannot be accommodated elsewhere.
Whilst the majority of planning applications are for brown field land, there has been an increase in the number of green belt sites being proposed for development. The rise has largely been due to an increase in residential projects. In 2009/2010 only 70 residential units were built on green belt land, compared to 8,143 units in 2017/18. Furthermore, whilst one of the aims of releasing green belt land is to provide more affordable housing, only 27% of these developments meet the government’s definition of ‘affordable’. Whilst the rational for releasing green belt land for development may be sensible, the outcomes for people and nature need to be carefully monitored.