On 24 July, the government released the long-anticipated revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
The Green Belt is a highly emotive subject. Press coverage has suggested that there has been a steady reduction in the extent of the Green Belt in recent years. Whilst this is not borne out by statistics (between 31 March 2016 and 31 March 2017 there was a decrease of less than 0.05%), negative press comment has, no doubt, contributed to the government's clearly stated intention to protect the Green Belt.
What is the Green Belt?
The Green Belt is essentially a policy for preventing urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Green Belt land does not, as the term would suggest, consist entirely of rolling green countryside that has been untouched by any form of development in the past. This is an important point, often overlooked by those campaigning to prevent any form of development on the Green Belt.
Extension of existing Green Belt
The NPPF makes it clear that Green Belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified. In coming to the conclusion that an extension to the boundary is justified, the planning authority must be able to demonstrate that it has fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development. Extension of the boundaries is only likely to be acceptable if the strategy already:
- Makes as much use as possible of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land;
- Optimises the density of development in line with the policies on making effective use of land, including whether policies promote a significant uplift in minimum density standards in town and city centres, and other locations well served by public transport; and
- Has been informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities about whether they could accommodate some of the identified need for development.
If it is decided that Green Belt land should be released for development, the planning authority should first consider using that land which has previously been built upon and/or is well served by public transport.
Development in the Green Belt
The premise that inappropriate development in the Green Belt should only be approved in exceptional circumstances is carried through from the previous version of the NPPF. Burial grounds and allotments have been added to the list of exceptions to this general rule.
Otherwise the exceptions to the stringent rule that development on the Green Belt will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances is largely unchanged.
What is the impact likely to be on developers wishing to build on the Green Belt?
The policies set out in the NPPF are material considerations which should be taken into account in dealing with applications from 24 July 2018. However, the policies in the previous version of the NPPF will apply when examining plans which are submitted on or before 24 January 2019.
How will it affect the government's commitment to deliver more housing?
The government has committed to build more houses. However, it has made it clear that this is not to be at the expense of the Green Belt. The emphasis continues to be on building "the right houses in the right places".