A Recent Timeline:
1898- a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Howard proposed the concept of garden cities surrounded by green belt countryside.
1926- the Campaign for Protection of Rural England was formed in response to public demand for protection against urban sprawl.
1935- the first green belt was formed in Greater London. This was followed by a series of green belt developments in other authorities until 1955.
1955- the Green Belt Policy for England was set out in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government circular 42/55 which invited local planning authorities to consider the establishment of green belts in their area.
1995- this policy was further strengthened when Planning Policy guidance included positive objectives for green belt. These were set out to provide recreation and attractive landscapes, to improve damaged and derelict land, to secure nature conservation and to retain farming and forestry.
2001- the last update to green belt legislation was passed.
Around 13% of the UK is designated as green belt which equates to 1.6 million hectares of land of which 0.3 million hectares are in the North West of England. A hectare is slightly bigger (20%) than a football pitch.
This area takes on a great significance in the face of climate change, England’s growing population and the need for a low carbon economy. It can also help in creating a healthier society through providing space for active outdoor lifestyles and locally grown food.
The purpose of green belt
There are five key aims
- To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas.
- To prevent neighbouring towns from merging with one another.
- To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
- To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns.
- To assist with urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
Overall the core aims of the green belt have been intact for 60 years. In essence its two principle objectives are that of a planning mechanism and a role in environmental development.
Within planning there is a presumption of permanence. Every 15 years local authorities set strategic plans for their boroughs. There is a presumption green belt is unaffected by these plans. The term is inappropriate development which means that a development cannot be built where the land is green belt and that the development is against the principles of local environmental development. This principle was upheld in the new planning laws NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) introduced in March 2012.
But there can be appeals against the presumption of inappropriate development through what are termed “very special circumstances”. Development in the green belt has become a major political issue in recent years, with government rhetoric on the subject hardening. Due to the economic crisis there is political pressure to loosen the green belt protection and there has been an increase in developers applying for the very special circumstances clause. Local authorities are under pressure to release green belt land both from developers and central government housing and other imposed development targets.
The special circumstances are judged by a government planning inspector on appeal or public enquiry where the benefits of the development are weighed up against the loss of the green belt to the local community. The subject is specific to the circumstances of the development and guidance by case law and within the principles of the government’s new planning laws, the NPPF.
In the next few years there is likely to be a number of test cases between the local community and developers as this is very much in its infancy.
There is an on-going debate about green belt. Some say green belt encourages “leap frogging” between urban areas which increases the car commute times and adds to C02 emissions. Others say the green belt encourages urban development and better use of brown belt land development.
Moreover it is argued that green belts are not envisaged as merely stopping development, but guiding it to particular locations in order to shape the expansion of an area on a regional scale. As part of such a wider strategy, dispersal of new development to towns beyond the green belt need not lead to increased carbon emissions from commuting if it is accompanied by supporting infrastructure for employment, public transport, walking and cycling.”Leap-frogging” may also be affected by personal choice,
Whichever is the right approach there is no doubt developers will always prefer green belt development because it has a lower capital cost to the developer.
Green belt is often associated in the public mind as a place designated for its natural beauty or as a place where nature is protected. The planning purposes of green belt, such as preventing urban sprawl, are not always as well understood.
The green belt is not just about protecting land from development nor is it just about green space. It is also about protecting heritage and character of regions including historic towns and villages. It serves as land for forestry and farming which sustains and feeds us. It also serves as a recreational purpose for cycling, walking, birdwatching, sailing, angling, sports fields and many other activities.
Its role in wildlife and nature is fundamental and serves as home for almost all our wildlife species in the UK. In addition to habitats the green belt also serves as an essential connecting green corridor which allows animals to migrate and roam. Without this they would be unable to follow their natural breeding patterns and would become extinct.
There are also priority habitats designated SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and Ramsar sites. Ramsar sites are those wetlands of international importance protected under the Ramsar convention. Many of these sites are local to us including the Mersey and Dee estuaries. Many wading and wildfowl frequent our area to and from these sites as part of the natural breeding and feeding cycle.
In addition to recreation, wildlife, heritage, leisure and visual amenity the green belt also serves as an ecosystem to keep us alive. Without adequate green space humans themselves would suffer in terms of health and may even ultimately face extinction.
Green belt land is a fundamental underpin of many natural processes. A few examples of these processes including pollination, soil fertility, flood defence, air filtration, carbon capture and storage.
Green belt is not an option- we lose it at our peril!