Soil Surveys, Environmental Assessment & Land Management

What is Greenbelt Land And Can You Build On It?

Greenbelt land refers to areas of open land around cities and towns protected to prevent urban sprawl, maintain the character of rural communities, and provide a haven for wildlife. Established in the 1950s in the UK, greenbelt policy aims to preserve the countryside and encourage urban regeneration by utilising brownfield sites.

Characteristics of Greenbelt Land

Greenbelt land often includes a mix of agricultural fields, woodlands, and recreational spaces. Its primary purposes are to:

  • Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas.
    • The primary aim of greenbelt land is to contain urban sprawl by maintaining clear boundaries between urban and rural areas. This helps to prevent cities from expanding uncontrollably and engulfing surrounding villages and countryside, ensuring that green spaces are preserved for future generations. By setting these boundaries, we can sustainably manage growth, ensuring that development happens where needed.
  • Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another.
    • One of the critical functions of greenbelt land is to act as a buffer zone, maintaining distinct and separate communities. This not only preserves the unique identities of individual towns but also prevents the creation of continuous urban environments. The greenbelt ensures that each town retains its character and sense of place, vital for community identity and local heritage.
  • Safeguard the countryside from encroachment.
    • Protecting the countryside from encroachment is another vital role of greenbelt land. This protection helps maintain natural landscapes, supports biodiversity, and provides recreational opportunities for residents. The greenbelt's preservation of rural areas also contributes to agricultural viability and the overall health of the environment, offering a refuge for wildlife and promoting ecological balance.
  • Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns.
    • Many historic towns benefit from being surrounded by greenbelt land, which preserves their setting and special character. This protection helps to maintain the visual appeal and cultural heritage of these towns, enhancing tourism and local pride. The greenbelt ensures that development does not overshadow historic buildings and landmarks, making these areas attractive and significant.
  • Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
    • By restricting development on greenbelt land, there is a greater incentive to regenerate derelict and unused urban sites. This promotes more sustainable development practices, as existing urban areas are revitalised rather than abandoned. Urban regeneration can lead to improved infrastructure, economic growth, and increased housing availability within city boundaries, making better use of the land already impacted by development.

Can You Build on Greenbelt Land?

Building on greenbelt land is heavily restricted. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out specific circumstances under which development might be permissible. These include:

  • Agricultural Buildings: Structures necessary for agriculture or forestry. Agricultural buildings essential for farming or forestry can be built on greenbelt land as they support the primary functions of the greenbelt. These structures must be directly related to agricultural activities, such as barns, stables, or storage facilities.
  • Outdoor Sport and Recreation: Facilities that preserve the openness of the greenbelt. Facilities for outdoor sport and recreation, like golf courses, playing fields, and parks, are often allowed as they do not significantly affect the openness of the greenbelt. These developments provide valuable leisure opportunities for local communities while maintaining the natural landscape.
  • Extensions and Alterations: Limited extensions to existing buildings. Limited extensions and alterations to existing buildings within the greenbelt may be permitted, provided they do not disproportionately increase the size of the original structure. These modifications must ensure that the openness of the Greenbelt is maintained.
  • Replacement Buildings: Provided the new building is significantly smaller than the one it replaces. Replacing existing buildings with new ones is allowed if the new structure is not substantially larger than the one it replaces. This policy helps modernise buildings while ensuring minimal environmental footprint and impact on the greenbelt.
  • Affordable Housing: In some cases, affordable housing for local community needs might be allowed. In exceptional cases, affordable housing developments may be permitted to address local community needs. These developments must demonstrate clear benefits to the local area and be designed to minimise their impact on the greenbelt.

For significant developments, such as new housing estates or commercial buildings, the hurdles are much higher. Local planning authorities need to demonstrate "very special circumstances" that outweigh the harm to the greenbelt. This could include factors like a lack of viable alternative sites or significant local benefits.

Challenges and Controversies

The Greenbelt policy is often a topic of debate. Proponents argue it is essential for preserving the environment and preventing urban sprawl. Critics, however, contend it can lead to housing shortages and increased property prices, as available land for development is restricted.

Greenbelt land plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance between urban development and countryside preservation. While building on greenbelt land is possible, it comes with stringent regulations aimed at protecting these areas. Any development proposals must carefully consider the impact on the environment and meet the rigorous criteria set by planning authorities.

Understanding the restrictions and possibilities surrounding greenbelt land is essential for anyone involved in land research, development, or planning. With careful consideration and adherence to policy, it is possible to find a balance between development needs and environmental conservation.