Green belt (United Kingdom)

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Designated areas of green belt in England; the Metropolitan Green Belt outlined in red

In United Kingdom town planning, the green belt is a policy for controlling urban growth. The idea is for a ring of countryside where urbanisation will be resisted for the foreseeable future, maintaining an area where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure can be expected to prevail. The fundamental aim of green belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open, and consequently the most important attribute of green belts is their openness.

The Metropolitan Green Belt around London was first proposed by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee in 1935. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 then allowed local authorities to include green belt proposals in their development plans. In 1955, Minister of Housing Duncan Sandys encouraged local authorities around the country to consider protecting land around their towns and cities by the formal designation of clearly defined green belts.[1][2]

Green belt policy has been criticised for reducing the amount of land available for building and therefore pushing up house prices, as 70% of the cost of building new houses is the purchase of the land (up from 25% in the late 1950s).[3]

England and Wales

The Government formerly set out its policies and principles towards green belts in England and Wales in Planning Policy Guidance Note 2: Green Belts,[4] but this planning guidance was superseded by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in March 2012. Planning Authorities are strongly urged to follow the NPPF's detailed advice when considering whether to permit additional development in the green belt. In the green belt there is a general presumption against inappropriate development, unless very special circumstances can be demonstrated to show that the benefits of the development will outweigh the harm caused to the green belt. The NPPF sets out what would constitute appropriate development in the green belt.

According to the NPPF, there are five stated purposes of including land within the green belt:

  • To check the unrestricted sprawl 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
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Once an area of land has been defined as green belt, the stated opportunities and benefits include:

  • Providing opportunities for access to the open countryside for the urban population
  • Providing opportunities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation near urban areas
  • The retention of attractive landscapes and the enhancement of landscapes, near to where people live
  • Improvement of damaged and derelict land around towns
  • The securing of nature conservation interests
  • The retention of land in agricultural, forestry and related uses.


The area designated as green belt land in England as at 31 March 2010 was estimated at 1,639,560 hectares, about 13 per cent of the land area.[5]

Green belt Urban core
Metropolitan Green Belt Greater London
North West Green Belt Merseyside and Greater Manchester
South and West Yorkshire Green Belt South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire
West Midlands Green Belt West Midlands
South West Hampshire/South East Dorset Green Belt Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole
Avon Green Belt Bristol and Bath
North East Green Belt Tyne and Wear, Durham and Hexham
Nottingham and Derby Green Belt Nottingham and Derby
Stoke-on-Trent Green Belt Stoke-on-Trent
Oxford Green Belt Oxford
Cambridge Green Belt Cambridge
York Green Belt York
Gloucester and Cheltenham Green Belt Gloucester and Cheltenham
Burton upon Trent and Swadlincote Green Belt Burton upon Trent and Swadlincote

The distribution of green belt designated land by region of England as at 31 March 2009,[6] 31 March 2010,[7] 31 March 2011,[8] 31 March 2012,[9] 31 March 2013[10] and 31 March 2014[10] was as follows:

Region 2009 area (hectares) 2010 area (hectares) 2011 area (hectares) 2012 area (hectares) 2013 area (hectares) 2014 area (hectares)
East/London/South East 580,410 580,730 580,690 580,460 580,570 580,380
East Midlands 78,620 78,930 78,930 78,930 78,950 78,950
North East 72,990 72,990 72,990 73,040 73,060 73,060
North West 262,730 262,780 262,770 262,800 262,440 262,300
South West 110,130 110,130 110,130 110,130 110,620 110,420
West Midlands 269,380 269,380 269,380 269,340 269,360 269,360
Yorkshire and the Humber 264,580 264,640 264,640 264,680 264,290 264,290
England total 1,638,840 1,639,560 1,639,530 1,639,380 1,639,290 1,638,760

Year-on-year changes reflect items included in the following notes:[11]

2011 •between March 2010 and March 2011, boundary changes in 3 authorities (Enfield, Slough and Vale of White Horse) resulted in a small increase (less than 5 hectares) in the total area of green belt •over the longer term, since these statistics were first compiled for 1997, there has been an increase in the area of green belt after taking account of the re-designation of some green belt as part of the New Forest National Park in 2005

2012 •overall there has been a decrease of 130 hectares from the revised 2010 to 2011 green belt, due to 3 authorities who have adopted new plans in which they have changed the boundaries of the green belt; this represents a decrease of less than 0.01% in the total green belt area

2013 •overall there has been a slight decrease of 390 hectares (around 0.02%) in area of green belt between 2011 to 2012 and 2012 to 2013; in 2012 to 2013, 4 authorities adopted new plans which resulted in the decrease in the overall area of green belt compared to 2011 to 2012 •the revised 2011 to 2012 green belt in England is estimated at 1,639,480 hectares, this is a slight increase of 70 hectares on the estimated 2011 to 2012 green belt area of 1,639,410 hectares published in November 2012; this change is due to a correction of the area of 1 local authority’s green belt boundary

2014 •overall there has been a decrease of 540 hectares (around 0.03%) in area of green belt between 2012 to 2013 and 2013 to 2014; in 2013 to 2014, 3 authorities adopted new plans which resulted in the decrease in the overall area of green belt compared to 2012 to 2013

The total area of green belt land in England since 2003 was as follows:[10]

Year 2003 2004 2006 2007 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14
Area (hectares) 1,671,580 Increase 1,678,190 Decrease 1,631,830 Increase 1,635,670 Increase 1,639,650 Decrease 1,639,530 Steady 1,639,530 Decrease 1,639,480 Decrease 1,639,160 Decrease 1,638,610

As well as any underlying re-designations, changes in green belt area are explained in part by alterations in land designation by local authorities, and may also be influenced by improvements with measurement associated with digital mapping. Note that from 2006, estimates exclude the area of Green Belt land in New Forest DC and Test Valley BC (47,300 hectares) which were designated as New Forest National Park in 2005.


There is one green belt in Wales, between Newport and Cardiff.[12]

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has 30 green belt areas,[13] accounting for approximately 226,600 hectares, about 16 percent of its total area.[14]


Green belt policy in Scotland is set out in Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) 21, published by the Scottish Government in February 2010. On 29 November, the Government published "Green Belt Policy in Scotland 10/85"

As of 2010 Scotland had 10 green belt areas: Aberdeen, Ayr, Clackmannanshire, East Lothian, Edinburgh, Falkirk and Grangemouth, Greater Glasgow, Midlothian and Stirling. There are also plans for green belts around Dunfermline, Perth and St Andrews.

The Scottish Government is clear that:

The purpose of green belt designation in the development plan as part of the settlement strategy for an area is to:

direct planned growth to the most appropriate locations and support regeneration, protect and enhance the quality, character, landscape setting and identity of towns and cities, and

protect and give access to open space within and around towns and cities[15]

However, the Scottish Government recognises that certain types of development might actually promote and support appropriate rural diversification:

  • Development associated with agriculture, including the re-use of historic agricultural buildings,
  • Woodland and forestry, including community woodlands,
  • Horticulture, including market gardening and directly connected retailing,
  • Recreational uses that are compatible with an agricultural or natural setting, and
  • essential infrastructure such as electronic communications infrastructure and electricity grid connections[16]

The Government requires that locally established green belt plans: maintain the identity of a city by the clearly establishing physical boundaries and preventing coalescence; provide countryside for recreation of denizens; and maintain the landscape setting of the city in question. In its Planning Policy (129), the Scottish Government states that

“All public bodies, including planning authorities, have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, and this should be reflected in development plans and development management decisions. Biodiversity is important because it provides natural services and products that we rely on, is an important element of sustainable development and makes an essential contribution to Scotland's economy and cultural heritage.”[15]


The term emerged from continental Europe where broad boulevards were increasingly used to separate new development from the centre of historic towns; most notably the Ringstraße in Vienna. Various proposals were put forward from 1890 onwards but the first to garner widespread support was put forward by the London Society in its "Development Plan of Greater London" 1919. Alongside the CPRE they lobbied for a continuous belt (of up to two miles wide) to prevent urban sprawl, beyond which new development could occur.

Implementation of the notion dated from Herbert Morrison's 1934 leadership of the London County Council. It was first formally proposed by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee in 1935, "to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space". It was again included in an advisory Greater London Plan prepared by Patrick Abercrombie in 1944 (which sought a belt of up to six miles wide). However, it was some 14 years before the elected local authorities responsible for the area around London had all defined the area on scaled maps with some precision (encouraged by Duncan Sandys to designate a belt of some 7–10 miles wide).

New provisions for compensation in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act allowed local authorities around the country to incorporate green belt proposals in their first development plans. The codification of Green Belt policy and its extension to areas other than London came with the historic Circular 42/55 inviting local planning authorities to consider the establishment of Green Belts. This decision was made in tandem with the 1946 New Towns Act, which sought to depopulate urban centres in the South East of England and accommodate people in new settlements elsewhere. Green belt could therefore be designated by local authorities without worry that it would come into conflict with pressure from population growth.

As the outward growth of London was seen to be firmly repressed, residents owning properties further from the built-up area also campaigned for this policy of urban restraint, partly to safeguard their own investments but often invoking an idealised scenic/rustic argument which laid the blame for most social ills upon urban influences. In mid-1971, for example, the government decided to extend the Metropolitan Green Belt northwards to include almost all of Hertfordshire. The Metropolitan Green Belt now covers parts of 68 different Districts or Boroughs.

Since 1955 London's green belt has extended significantly, stretching some 35 miles out in places. London's green belt now covers an area of 516,000 hectares, an area broadly three times larger than that of London itself. With London's population set to increase by 2,000,000 over the period 2015-2030 it is therefore under increasing pressure for limited land release. The London Society began debate about the city's green belt in 2014 with publication of a report entitled "Green Sprawl".[17][18][19][20][21] Other organisations, including the Planning Officers Society,[22] have since responded with specific calls for a review and proposals to balance land release with environmental protection.[23][24][25]


Several academics, policy groups and town planning organisations in recent years have criticised the idea and implementation of green belts in the UK. Green belt policy has been attacked as too rigid in the face of new urban and environmental challenges, principally the lack of housing available in many cities in the UK. The policy has been criticised for reducing the amount of land available for building and therefore pushing up house prices, as 70% of the cost of building new houses is the purchase of the land (up from 25% in the late 1950s).[26] It has also been claimed that areas of green belt can be of unremarkable environmental quality, and may not be well managed or provide the recreational opportunities originally envisaged.

The Town and Country Planning Association, an organisation heavily involved in initiating the concept several decades previously, published a policy statement in 2002,[27] which proposed a more flexible policy which would allow the introduction of green wedge and strategic gap policies rather than green belts, and so permit the expansion of some urban areas. In October 2007, Sir Martin Doughty, then Chair of Natural England, argued for a review of green belts, saying: "The time has come for a greener green belt. We need a 21st century solution to England's housing needs which puts in place a network of green wedges, gaps and corridors, linking the natural environment and people.".[28] Similarly, the London Society published a comprehensive history of the green belt (as it emerged in the first part of the Twentieth Century) in 2014. Authored by the influential English urbanist Jonathan Manns, this called for a "move away from the simplistic and naïve idea that countryside is a sacrosanct patchwork of medieval hedgerows and towards an empirically informed position which once more recognises housing as a need to be met in locations with appropriate environmental capacity".[29]

The Economist has criticised green belt policy, saying that unless more houses are built through reforming planning laws and releasing green belt land, then housing space will need to be rationed out. It noted that if general inflation had risen as fast as housing prices had since 1971, a chicken would cost £51; and that Britain is "building less homes today than at any point since the 1920s".[30] According to the independent Institute of Economic Affairs, there is "overwhelming empirical evidence that that planning restrictions have a substantial impact on housing costs" and are the main reason why housing is two and a half times more expensive in 2011 than it was in 1975.[31] The Adam Smith Institute is a particular critic of the green belt,[32][33][34] and has claimed that there is removing the green belt from land within ten minutes walk of a railway station would release enough land to build 1 million homes.

Lewis Abbott has identified green belt barriers to urban expansion as one of several major protectionist political-economic barriers to house building with negative effects on the supply, cost/prices, and quality of new homes. (The others include new housing development taxes and quasi-taxes; political discrimination against particular classes of new housing supplier, household consumer, and housing product; and controls on housing technical-product development – in particular, the blocking of innovative low-cost house building using new materials and production technologies). Abbott argues that the greenbelts actually defeat their own stated objective of saving the countryside and open spaces. By preventing existing towns and cities from extending normally and organically, they result in more land-extensive housing developments further out – i.e., the establishment beyond the greenbelts of new communities with lower building densities, their own built infrastructure and other facilities, and greater dependence on cars and commuting, etc. Meanwhile, valuable urban green space and brownfield sites best suited to industry and commerce are lost in existing conurbations as more and more new housing is crammed into them.[35][36]

Commentators such as James Heartfield,[37] Alan Evans[38] and Tom Papworth [39] have called for outright abolition of green belts, principally on the grounds that by inhibiting the free use of land they restrict home ownership.

However, in England, where 65% of people are property-owners who benefit from scarcity of building land, the concept of "green belt" has become entrenched as a fundamental part of government policy, and the possibility of reviewing boundaries is often viewed with considerable hostility by neighbouring communities and their elected representatives.[40][41]

Related concepts

The general concept of "green belt" has evolved in recent years to encompass "Greenspace" and "Greenstructure", taking into account urban greenspace, an important aspect of sustainable development in the 21st century. However, while in general these concepts are quite distinct in the UK from the green belt as a statutory development plan designation, an exception occurs in London where land may be designated as "Metropolitan Open Land" (MOL). Areas of MOL are subject to the same planning restrictions as the Green Belt while lying within the urban area. In 2005, the European Commission's COST Action C11 (COST European Cooperation in Science and Technology) undertook in-depth city case studies into cities across 15 European countries. Sheffield was one such case study city for the UK. Conclusions were published in "Case studies in Greenstructure Planning".

See also


  1. "Q&A: England's green belt". BBC News. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Geography; An Integrated Approach - David Waugh
  3. It's Land, stupid, Inside Housing<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. [1]
  5. "Local Planning Authority Green Belt Statistics: England 2009/10".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. UK ONS Statistics 2011
  9. UK ONS Statistics 2012
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 UK ONS Statistics 2013 & 2014
  11. Green-belt statistics from ONS
  12. "BBC NEWS | UK | Q&A: England's green belt". Retrieved 25 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Q&A: England's green belt". BBC. 15 August 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "e-Digest Statistics about: Land Use and Land Cover". Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 1 June 2005. Retrieved 2 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Scottish Planning Policy". Retrieved 25 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Scottish Parliament Green Belt Policy
  17. Manns, J., "Green Sprawl: Our Current Affection for a Preservation Myth?", London Society, London, 2014
  18. Jonathan Prynn, "London's green belt isn't sacrosanct...we need to build homes on it", Evening Standard, 09 December 2014 [2]
  19. Peter Murray, Is London's Green Belt Overprotected?, On Office Magazine,
  20. Paul Cheshire, Are They Green *Belts% by Accident?, LSE Spatial Economics Research Centre Blog,
  21. Homes for Britain, Why We Need Reform of the Green Belt in London and the South East,
  22. Planning Officers Society, Planning For a Better Future: Our Manifesto for the Next Government, Aylesbury, March 2015 [3]
  23. "The Green Belt: A Place for Londoners?", London First, London, 2015
  24. "Delivering Change: Building Homes Where we Need Them", Centre for Cities, London, 2015
  25. AECOM, Big Bold Global Connected London 2065,
  26. , Inside Housing Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Time for a greener green belt, says Natural England
  29. Manns, J.P., "Green Sprawl: Our Current Affection for a Preservation Myth?", London Society, London, 2014
  30. Build on the green belt or introduce space rationing: your choice<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. Green belt is the reason for rabbit hutch UK<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. The Green Noose<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Re-examining London’s misnamed green belt<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. “Greenbelt Barriers To Urban Expansion”, in Political Barriers To Housebuilding In Britain: A Critical Case Study Of Protectionism & Its Industrial-Commercial Effects, ISR/Google Books, New edition 2002. ISBN 978-0-906321-21-8. [4]
  36. "Housebuilding and Land (2): Political and Legal Influences" in Housebuilding and the New Homes Market: A Survey, ISR/Google Books, Revised second edition 2008. ISBN 978-0-906321-45-4. [5]
  37. Don’t protect the Green Belt - build on it, 3 August 2005, By James Heartfield, Spiked
  38. Call for green belt rules to be scrapped
  39. Papworth, T., "The Green Noose", Adam Smith Institute, London, 2014
  40. "Oxford Green Belt Network Website". Retrieved 25 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. "Documents | Friends of the Earth". Retrieved 25 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links