The Commons Library briefing Green Belt, October 2022, sets out current Green Belt planning policy and some of the recent concern and controversy about the Green Belt. It covers how it is treated the Planning for the Future (2020) and Levelling Up White Paper (2022). It also covers the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23. It applies only to England as planning is a devolved matter.

Green Belt planning policy

Government policy on protection for the Green Belt is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF sets out that local authorities should change Green Belt boundaries only in “exceptional circumstances”. It also states that inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt and should be approved only in “very special circumstances”.

How well is the Green Belt working?

The question of whether the Green Belt is working well, which is often tied up with questions of how to meet housing needs, can prove contentious. Some commentators argue that inappropriate development can encroach on the Green Belt, while others argue that Green Belt protections get in the way of building sufficient housing.

CPRE (formerly the Campaign to Protect Rural England) has argued that “we need to focus on restoring and enhancing the Green Belt”. The organisation‘s position is that building on the Green Belt could “not solve the crisis in affordable housing”.

Think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs have argued that the release of (at least some) Green Belt land could help “solve the housing crisis”. The Centre for Cities has suggested releasing Green Belt land near train stations that serve major cities for development.

Green Belt statistics

England had around 16,382 km2 of Green Belt land at the end of March 2022, covering 12.6% of England’s land area. The Green Belt is clustered around 15 urban cores, the largest of which are London, Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and South and West Yorkshire.

An estimated 93.2% of the Green Belt was undeveloped land in 2018, and this land was primarily used for agriculture (65.6% of all Green Belt land). 6.7% of Green Belt land was developed. Residential buildings accounted for 0.3% of Green Belt land. In 2017/18, 8.9 km2 of previously undeveloped Green Belt land changed to a developed use.

What’s the future of the Green Belt? 

Proposals to change the planning system put forward in the Planning for the Future White Paper (August 2020) have lead to recent discussions on the future of the Green Belt. In brief, some commentators have argued that the need for more housing will only be met if some development takes place in the Green Belt.

An inquiry by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee called for a review to “examine the purpose of the Green Belt”. The Committee noted that commentators were divided on whether Green Belt land should “never be built on” or constituted “an anti-growth mechanism”.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23 would introduce significant changes to the planning system. Some commentators have expressed disappointment that the Bill does not include provisions on the Green Belt. The Government has maintained that “existing Green Belt protections will remain”.

Further reading

In addition, the following list of recent Commons Briefing Papers prepared by the Library, together with Select Committee reports and Government responses, provide further information relevant to developments on Green Belt land.

Recent proposals for planning reforms

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill 2022-23, June 2022

Planning for the Future: planning policy changes in England in 2020 and future reforms, February 2022

What next for planning in England? The National Planning Policy Framework, June 2019

Housing need and supply

Tackling the under-supply of housing in England, February 2022

Calculating housing need in the planning system (England), August 2021

Extending home ownership: Government initiatives, March 2021

Stimulating housing supply – Government initiatives (England), February 2021

Housing affordability

Housing and the cost of living, September 2022

Social rented housing (England): past trends and prospects, August 2022

What is affordable housing?, March 2022

Constituency data: house prices, last updated September 2022. This data dashboard provides house price and affordability figures for constituencies.

Select Committee letters, reports and Government responses

Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, Letter to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, 24 August 2022

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, The future of the planning system in England, First Report of Session 2021-22, June 2021

Government Response to the Committee Report on: The future of the planning system in England, May 2022

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