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What is a Green Belt?
Green belts are usually an element of national planning policy, expressed through County Structure Plans. However, there are various different measures and schemes which have been referred to as 'Green Belt', and not all of them are the same. The biggest Green Belt in the UK is known as the Metropolitan Green Belt, around London. There are other major green belts around the West Midlands conurbation, Manchester, Liverpool, and in South and West Yorkshire. This principle was established in 1955. Furthermore, green belts are growing still. Between 1979 and 1993 the green belt area designated in England doubled (From Indicators of Sustainable Development in the UK, HMSO).
The principle is that a certain area around a metropolis has certain controls against development in place. Green Belt boundaries - which are precise - are laid out in Local Plans. The Local Plan is the document produced by the planning authority (usually a district or borough council in England) to provide a policy for planning decisions. Land included in the Green Belt must contribute to one or more of the five purposes of the Green Belt set out in Planning Policy Guidance Note 2 (PPG2 Green Belts):
• To check the unrestricted sprawl of built-up areas.
• To safeguard the surrounding countryside from further encroachment.
• To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another.
• To preserve the special character of historic towns.
• To assist in urban regeneration.
You will notice that no explicit mention is made of nature conservation. The term 'Green' in this case does not have that meaning, although it is often wrongly thought to do so. Green Belts were so called long before the word 'green' gained the wider use it has today.
PPG2 also states that Green Belt boundaries should be drawn so that they endure, and will not need to be altered at the end of the plan period. This normally means that land is excluded which it is not necessary to keep permanently open, even if there is no known intention or need to develop the land in the foreseeable future. PPG2 recommends that readily identifiable boundaries should be used whenever possible, such as roads, hedges, streams or belts of trees.
In some cases (although not normally in the UK) the area designated is not a circular 'belt' as the name implies, but something else, such as Green Wedges - axes of protected land which extend into the city, or even 'Green Lungs' - areas entirely surrounded by development. Green belts have been criticised for causing a 'leap-frogging' effect, where development takes place in rural countryside, rather than in the more heavily protected suburban greenbelt areas.
How do I find out what is in the Green Belt?
You should consult the Local Plan (see above). Many areas have no Green Belt, but all the details of what sort of planning designations there are will be in the Local Plan, and this will include Green Belts if there are any. As the exact definition of a Green Belt can vary you should also seek advice from the planning authority to see what status a Green Belt has in your area. The local plan will be held by the local planning authority, usually the district or borough council in England. Reference libraries will also have it - you can ring them up and ask where it is. Some authorities even have their local plan online. The Isle of Wight is one example - although there are no green belts in it!.
How can I get land put into the Green Belt?
The short answer is that in most cases you cannot. The Green Belt is normally reviewed when the local plan is reviewed, and this usually happens every 10 years or so. However, if your local plan is under review (as many are - the process takes years) you may have the chance to comment on it and make suggestions about green belt status.
In the meantime land can be moved in or out of it, but only by the planning authority, and usually after a lot of consultation and debate. There would have to be an over-riding case based on one of the five criteria outlined above. In practice, if you do not have the support of your local planning authority you stand next to no chance of changing their decision on a matter of Green Belt policy.
In many cases the Green Belt would provide little or no protection for conservation purposes anyway - if that is your purpose. Bear in mind that plenty of areas of outstanding conservation value survive perfectly well outside Green Belts - and plenty of areas within Green Belts are about as heavily industrialised they could be.