What is – Green Belt Land?

What is – Green Belt Land?

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.

England has 14 Green Belts covering over a tenth (13%) of the land, providing a breath of fresh air for 45 million people. Altogether, 88% of the population (including those in the Borough of Welwyn Hatfield) live in urban areas within Green Belt boundaries. (Source: CPRE)

Can you build on Green Belt Land?

Areas that are designated as green belt must not be built upon because green belt is defined as an open space.

However, that does not mean that no buildings can be erected in green belt. Buildings for agricultural uses and sanitation facilities, for instance, are usually allowed. And, in some cases, it is also possible to change the use of land in green belt, and even gain permission for structures that are officially not allowed in green belt.

But such cases are very rare.

So – can Green Belt boundaries actually be changed?

While the government says that green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances it does now affirm that creation of the Local Plan is one of those ‘exceptional’ circumstances, and one that will of course be inspected when the plan is submitted. N.B. Welwyn Hatfield is in the process of doing just that – creating a new Local Plan.

The Welwyn Hatfield Local Plan – cause for Green Belt change?

The Borough of Welwyn Hatfield has just put out its new Local Plan Consultation Document for Public Consultation, a process which ends on 19th March 2015.

In recent times, and prior to publication of the Local Plan Consultation Document, WHBC undertook two green belt reviews: the first in 2013 looked more widely at this part of Hertfordshire including outside Borough boundaries, but the second in 2014 was specific to Welwyn Hatfield.

As part of this latter process, the following two activities took place:

  1. A process was initiated called Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAA’s) whereby (known) local landowners were invited to propose sites for potential housing development. This was to have been concluded by the end of April 2014.
  2. By the end of 2014, WHBC Officers then analysed the landowners’  proposed sites against criteria which, among other issues, included the proximity of existing green belt boundaries.

A common, non-green belt, argument for failing this critical analysis was that proposed sites were not contiguous with an (existing) urban (including village) boundary, which is one of the rules which guards against ribbon development, and coalescence between settlements/villages/towns.

But there are now, nevertheless, instances where the WHBC is actually proposing to change current Green Belt boundaries, and that includes sites in and around the settlements of Welwyn Village, Digswell, and Oaklands & Mardley Heath. The borough estimates that the building of all the houses in the new Local Plan will reduce the green belt to 76% of the area within its boundaries.

One safeguard is that new boundaries have to be definable, where possible, by physical things roads, railway, rivers, woodland etc, and not just by drawing a line across a field.