Planning Consultant - Chris Scott
Hi, I’m Chris,
I hold a Master of Arts in Planning Built Environments and work as a Planning Consultant

When it comes to planning one of the trickest policies to navigate projects around is that of the Green Belt. My own dwelling is located within the Staffordshire Moorlands Green Belt. Therefore I’ve appreciated the importance of being familiar with Green Belt planning policy and its implications for many years. There is no doubt that securing approval for development located within the Green Belt can be a significant challenge. However, understanding the detail of the policy and designing proposals which do not significantly conflict with the objectives of the Green Belt is possible.

What is the Purpose of the Green Belt?

The main purpose of the Green Belt is to provide a ‘check’ on urban growth and sprawl. To ensure that urban development does not overrun areas of agriculture, forestry and leisure. The key objective of the Green Belt is to maintain areas of openness and permanence. The current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states the five main purposes of the Green Belt are:

  • (a) to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • (b) to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • (c) to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • (d) to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • (e) to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

The Government places significant weight on the protection of the Green Belt. Therefore, so do local planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate. Therefore once you have identified that your development is located within the Green Belt it should shape the design of the proposals and your approach to securing planning permission.

How much of England is covered by Green Belt?

England Green Belt Wikipedia
This is a map of England’s Green Belt currently displayed on Wikipedia.

The first area of Green Belt was created around Greater London in 1935, referred to as the Metropolitan Green Belt. Then more Green Belt was introduced across the UK, notably around Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

The area of land in the UK covered changes year on year as land is released or protected. The latest released Government statistics from 2018 state that 12.5% of the land area of England is covered by Green Belt. This is estimated to be 1,629,510 hectares. From the previous 2017 figures, there was a reduction of 5,070 hectares.

Is new Green Belt being created?

As the NPPF states, the majority of the Green Belt has already been established, and new Green Belts would only be created in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Due to the UK housing crisis that is ongoing the introduction of new Green Belts would not be conducive to addressing this issue. Many local authorities are now having to conduct Green Belt reviews to identify parts of the local Green Belts which serve little value to the five main purposes stated above. These areas are then released from the Green Belt to meet urgent local housing needs. Areas of Green Belt which are released are located on the fringes of existing settlements. Therefore new developments can be sustainably located close to public transport and services.

Is my property within the Green Belt?

If you wish to find out if your property is located within the Green Belt, there are various sources you can use to check. However, some are more accurate and user-friendly than others.

Telegraph – Interactive Green Belt Map

Green Belt Map Telegraph
Screenshot of the interactive Green Belt currently on the Telegraph.co.uk

Back in 2012 the Telegraph placed an interactive map of Englands Green Belt on their website. You can enter your postcode and obviously the areas highlighted in green are areas of Green Belt. However, the problem with this map is when it comes to reviewing properties on the fringes of Green Belt zones. Furthermore, it’s not clear if the data set they are using to generate this map is being updated. Therefore, it may not be providing accurate information.

Campaign to Protect Rural England

The Campaign to Protect Rural England is a registered charity who lobby the government and other institutions on planning policy and other matters which impact the countryside. They have created their own interactive Green Belt map using OpenStreetMap.

Screenshot of the interactive Green Belt map on cpre.org.uk

Magic Map – Defra and Natural England

Green Belt Magic Map
Screenshot of the Stoke-on-Trent Green Belt from Magic.defra.gov.uk

One of if not the best tools that planning consultants such as my self have access to (and its free!) is Magic Map. Launched in 2002 it provides visual information on more than 300 different data layers held on the natural environment. Therefore it also provides access to the Green Belt data set provided by the Government. It’s a bit more complicated to use than the interactive map on the Telegraph/CPRE websites, but you can view the map in much more detail. You can also draw lines, shapes and annotations. You can print these maps, however, you cannot submit them as Location or Site Plans. For such maps, you will need to purchase OS maps with the appropriate licences. Magic Map is normally my first point of reference to check the Green Belt status of the client’s property.

You Local Authorities Interactive Planning Maps

Green Belt Map SMDC

Over recent years there has been a push by many local planning authorities to make the planning process easier to understand and navigate. Part of that effort is to provide more visual means to review the local area from a planning policy perspective. My own local planning authority of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC) have quite a good interactive planning policy map. It’s possible to show local Green Belt in the area including any amendments (increase/reductions) which have been made. If your local planning authority provides such an interactive map, this should be your primary source of information. If your local authority has not as yet provided such an interactive map you can still use Magic Map to review if your property lies within the Green Belt.

Do properties within the Green Belt have Permitted Development Rights?

Many people start to investigate what the Green Belt is from a perspective of investigating what restrictions there are on development. As the Government and Local Authorities place such significant weight on protecting the openness of the Green Belt you may be surprised to learn that permitted development rights (PD) do exist. Essentially within the curtilage of your home, there are no specific restrictions on PD for properties in the Green Belt. Therefore once the original size of the dwelling is accurately understood, PD often serves as an excellent means to extend a dwelling in the Green Belt. Furthermore, when it comes to dwelling extensions outside of PD or a replacement dwelling, PD rights can help to justify proposals.

Remember, when it comes to PD it’s very easy to think a proposal is acceptable under the rules, only to later find out your local planning enforcement department has issues with what you’ve built. Therefore I often recommend submitting a Lawful Development
Certificate for proposed works
before you actually start to build. It can save making a very expensive mistake and it also helps to sell a property with evidence the works comply with PD rules.

Can you still extend properties located within the Green Belt?

If you can not achieve the type of development you’re looking for under PD rights, you can submit a Householder Planning Application. This process is the same for properties not within the Green Belt. However, to extend a property within the Green Belt a tougher test needs to be passed. Both on a national planning policy (NPPF) and local planning policy level.

Green Belt Extensions
I was able to secure planning permission to extend my own dwelling which is located in the Stoke-on-Trent Green Belt

With regards to extending a building within the Green Belt the NPPF states the following:

(c) the extension or alteration of a building provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building;”

The term disproportionate may be open for interpretation. However, some local development plans specifically state a percentage above the original dwelling they will accept. Typically around 30% over the size of the original dwelling is accepted. Therefore as with PD rights, having an accurate understanding of the size of the original dwelling is imperative. Remaining PD rights for a dwelling can come in handy. If you can successfully demonstrate the property still holds PD rights to extend, these can be used to justify that the proposed extension plans while not PD are also not disproportionate.

What is Inappropriate Development?

When it comes to any development in the Green Belt (outside of PD) it will be determined if the proposals are considered to be ‘inappropriate development’. Point 143 of the NPPF states that inappropriate development is considered to cause harm to the Green Belt. Proposals which cause harm to the Green Belt will do so through by being in conflict to the five purposes of the Green Belt as stated above. Moreover, by doing harm to reduce the openness of the Green Belt. This harm can only be overcome in ‘very special circumstances’. There are also exceptions to development referenced below.

What are Very Special Circumstances?

If your proposals are deemed to be inappropriate development and do not fall under an exemption category, you will need to demonstrate ‘very special circumstances’. So what can be determined to be very special circumstances? Well, this is a typical case in planning where a lot of different perspectives and interpretations come into play. However, an example would be PD rights which have been effectively demonstrated to exist. PD rights can be effectively demonstrated through the approval of a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) for proposed works.

It’s potentially possible to demonstrate a collective of individual circumstances while not ‘special’ on their own merit are special collectively. These could be for instance high-quality design, a high degree of sustainability (low energy consumption/renewable energy measures) and improvements to landscaping/biodiversity. However, each case is different, and the decision maker will apply what ‘weight’ they believe is appropriate to the circumstances.

Building a New Dwelling

With regards to planning applications for new dwellings within the Green Belt, line 145 of the NPPF needs to be acknowledged:

“145. A local planning authority should regard the construction of new buildings as inappropriate in the Green Belt.” 

However, there are exceptions to this rule which include buildings for agriculture, forestry and leisure (outdoor sports). However, proposals must still ‘preserve the openness’ of the Green Belt and not conflict the five purposes stated at the start of this post. Therefore it’s possible in some cases to secure permission for an agricultural worker dwelling. However, this can be a tough test to pass in terms of establishing a genuine need. Furthermore, a planning condition would be attached to the property.

What is Limited Infilling?

Another approach to building a new dwelling within the Green Belt is under the exception of development stated in the NPPF of:

(e) limited infilling in villages;”

So the exception of development comes down to the interpretation of ‘limited’ and ‘villages’. Some local planning policy documents may provide an indication of what they consider to be ‘limited’. It will generally refer to a maximum of two, perhaps three new dwellings filling in between existing development. The term ‘villages’ is also up for interpretation. There are decisions where a local planning authority has not considered the location of a proposal to be within a village as it was not stated as such in their settlement hierarchy. However, upon appeal, the Inspectorate has determined otherwise, based on the number of dwellings and the character of the area.

With infilling developments its important to note that the location must still be deemed to be sustainable. For instance, is there good access within a reasonable walking distance to public transport and other local services (shops etc). Modern planning has a heavy focus on sustainability and this will need to be demonstrated to secure approval.

Reuse of an Existing Building as a Dwelling

From reading the above it should be clear that outside of limited infilling, securing approval for a new dwelling in the Green Belt from scratch is very challenging. However, there is another means to create a dwelling, through the redevelopment of an existing structure. Under point 146 of the NPPF development which is not regarded as inappropriate includes:

“(d) the re-use of buildings provided that the buildings are of permanent and substantial construction;”

I referenced this particular part of the NPPF to secure approval for my own dwelling in 2014. To demonstrate the building was of ‘permanent and substantial construction’ I commissioned a structural engineers report and included it with the planning application.

Replacement Buildings and Dwellings

Under section 145 of the NPPF with regards to proposals affecting the Green Belt the following applies:

(d) the replacement of a building provided the new building is in the same use and not materially larger than the one it replaces;”

This is where PD rights can again come into use. A Lawful Development Certificate can be used to demonstrate the existing dwelling could be extended through PD. Those PD extensions can then be factored into the size of the dwellings. Therefore the design of the new replacement dwelling can be based on the existing dwelling + PD extensions.

Renewable Energy projects on Green Belt land

When it comes to solar and wind projects within the Green Belt, line 147 of the NPPF needs to be considered:

“147. When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.”

Solar Projects

Therefore it is possible to secure approval for a solar installation on the basis that the power generated is considered as a very special circumstance. However, if the proposals are particularly prominent within the landscape and are determined to have a significant negative impact on Green Belt openness, the proposals may still result in a refusal. Each case is judged on its own merits and projects that do secure approval the decision is often finely balanced.

Wind Projects

However, currently in 2019 onshore wind turbine developments face a much tougher test than solar projects. With the introduction of the 2015 Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) with regards to onshore wind, new onshore wind projects are few and far between. The 2015 WMS has now been included in the NPPF as a footnote and reads as follows:

49 Except for applications for the repowering of existing wind turbines, a proposed wind energy development involving one or more turbines should not be considered acceptable unless it is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in the development plan; and, following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by the affected local community have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing.”

Very few local development plans have identified areas suitable for wind energy development. Therefore trying to secure approval for a wind energy development within land designated as Green Belt in 2019 is not a realistic option. However, planning policies change and a policy such as this could change under a new Government.

How to get Planning Permission for development in the Green Belt?

One of the first steps to secure planning permission within the Green Belt is to conduct a planning application search. You want to review planning decisions and appeals from local properties located in the Green Belt. Ideally, you want to find recent decisions for very similar developments to your own proposals. As referenced above many local planning authorities now provide interactive planning maps. These can be very helpful indeed, you can turn on the Green Belt layer and set the date range for decisions and start your search. Reviewing the approvals and refusals for proposals can provide some very helpful guidance to shape your proposals.

The Importance of Good Design

When it comes to rural locations (and especially the Green Belt) good design can be what tips the planning balance to approval. For instance, paragraph 79 of the NPPF regards isolated homes in the countryside.

(e) the design is of exceptional quality, in that it:

  • is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas; and
  • would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area.”

Furthermore, paragraph 131 states the following:

“131. In determining applications, great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability, or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area, so long as they fit in with the overall form and layout of their surroundings.”

Therefore, if you were looking to secure approval for a new dwelling from scratch in the Green Belt the above paragraphs of the NPPF need to be carefully considered by your architect. It’s also important to review any available supplementary design guidance provided by your local planning authority. To secure approval for projects in the Green Belt it often relies on a close working relationship with the architect and planning consultant.

Planning Assitance with Green Belt Projects

If your property is located in the Green Belt and you have a project in mind please get in touch. We can discuss your ideas and a strategy to go about trying to secure planning permission 🙂

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