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Green Belts

Green Belts are a major success of post-war town and country planning. This page describes what they are supposed to do.

An Idea Is Born

Back in the l9th century when town planning was recognised as a means of dealing with the crowded and unhealthy living conditions, Ebenezer Howard created his 'garden city'. A general strategy developed which envisaged city living areas as a series of such communities - clean, green and spacious, separated by a 'green backcloth' of farmland, forests and parks, and so Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth came into being.

But even after the social watershed of the 1914 - 18 war, urban development continued largely unchecked. Raymond Unwin, London’s planning adviser in the 1930s, proposed a narrow 'green girdle' around the capital; in the next decade, as the end of the second world war approached and peace-time reconstruction came into view, Sir Patrick Abercrombie published ideas which included Green Belts around London, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Concept Grows

Green Belts have been adapted to modern conditions. Their five main purposes are:
  • to check the unrestricted sprawls of large built-up areas
  • to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
In 1984, in a response to the tendency to spread into valuable green land, the last of these purposes was formally added:
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

What Green Belts Mean To You

Once Green Belts have been defined, they have a positive role to play in fulfilling the following objectives:
  • to provide opportunities for access to the countryside for the urban population
  • to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation
  • to retain, and enhance landscapes, near to where people live
  • to improve damaged and derelict land around towns
  • to secure nature conservation
  • to retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses

Green Belts Today

There are now fourteen separate Green Belts surrounding nearly all of England's major towns and cities. Where there is the potential for separate towns to merge into each other, Green Belts protect their individuality and provide a breathing space. London stands within the largest one of all. In all, Green Belts cover 12% of England, this is roughly as much as the total built-up area.

By restricting development, Green Belts affect what happens elsewhere. Development of new factories and offices may be redirected to the inner city areas where they are most needed. People may choose to live in the older urban areas and so help in renewal; but they may, by choice - or because they have no alternative - have to commute daily from homes in towns and villages beyond the Green Belt. There are serious considerations which provoke certain questions:

Is Development Prohibited In Green Belts?

In the main, yes. Inside a Green Belt, approval should not be given, except in very special circumstances, for the construction of new, or the change of use of existing, buildings for purposes other than agriculture and forestry outdoor sport, or other uses appropriate to rural areas.

The Government's Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 2 (revised 1995) gives more detailed advice on 'essential' facilities for outdoor sport and recreation. It also puts forward advice for the re-use of buildings. In general, the controlling factor is that any proposal must not have a materially different impact on the openness of the Green Belt.

Other proposals for development are likely to be refused permission unless very special circumstances apply. For instance, some developments need to fulfil specific operational requirements, such as power stations, mining etc; others are in the national interest, such as prisons and military installations; these are the exception rather than the rule.

Are All Green Belts The Same

In principle, but not in detail. While national Green Belt policy applies to each of them, local circumstances must be taken into account. Policies limiting development will vary according to local needs. Check first with your local planning authority to see what policies apply.

Are Green Belt Boundaries Permanent

Not necessarily. Many outer boundaries have changed radically. Changes respond to needs and pressures, particularly the increasing mobility of urban populations. Inner Green Belt boundaries may change where the local Council is convinced that the re-use of derelict land will not be sufficient to meet all the area's needs.

But permanence will be the general rule. Once the general extent of a Green Belt has been approved it should be altered only in exceptional circumstances. A full public consultation on an amendment has to take place.

Is There Much Real And Lasting Value In Green Belts For Everyone?

Yes. They protect good farmland, encourage the redevelopment of derelict urban land, and preserve the separate identity of towns and cities. Above all, they ensure open countryside is near enough to serve inner city residents.

Finding Out About Your Green Belt And Who To Ask

In most areas, the County Council or the Unitary Council; London District or Borough Councils; otherwise your District or Borough Council - some of these may also be unitary authorities. All of these authorities have maps forming part of the Structure or Local Plan for their area.

All District or Borough Councils keep copies of the Structure Plan for reference only. They may well have produced Local Plans for all or part of their areas; and these will expand on the Green Belt policies of the Structure Plan and include maps showing which land is Green Belt.

In London or the six metropolitan counties in England; the District or Borough Councils are the planning authorities for their areas. Ask about Green Belt policies in the Structure Plans and the Local Plans qf the District or Borough.

Some Unitary Development Plans are now being produced to replace Structure and Local Plans.

Any of the above planning authorities may produce a Green Belt Subject Plan. This rnvers a wide area around a large city or town, crossing District or Borough Boundaries.

In Northern Ireland ask any of the six Divisional Planning Offices of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Generally - how to make a start: Larger local libraries will often stock plans dealing with a Green Belt in their area, or be able to order thern foryou.

You can always telephone your local Council and ask to speak to a planning officer who deals with Green Belt matters in your area. An appointment can then be made to discuss matters in more detail. You should be able to buy copies of all the documents referred to above.

Further Reading: Planning Policy Guidance Note No. 2 'Green Belts': available from HM Stationery Office. (Public libraries should be able to provide HMSO addresses and telephone numbers, or ask the Planning Department).

‘Scottish Development Department Circular 24/1985’: available from the Scottish Development Department, New St. Andrew's House, St. James Centre, Edinburgh EHl 3SZ.

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