Building in the Green Belt is incredibly controversial. A lot of people will be saying, “And rightly so – we need to protect our countryside.” Others will take a different view, maybe pointing out that most of the countryside isn’t in the Green Belt while a lot of suburban areas and some industrial zones are. When you look at the history of how the Green Belts of England were drawn up, it turns out to be pretty haphazard.
Considering how intense the feelings around this are, you also might expect the rules around what you can and can’t build in the Green Belt will be extremely clear. But the opposite is true – they are full of vague, almost stereotypically English language like “provided that it does not result in disproportionate additions” and “not materially larger”. OK, so what does that mean? It’s all very “if you know, you know.”
Our clients had a decent-sized plot of land on the edge of a thriving village. They wanted to see whether they could do something with it. We considered how it fit in with the Green Belt rules and suggested that one house wouldn’t be allowed – but more might. It would all come down to an interpretation of “limited infilling in villages”...
When you are thinking of building on a greenfield plot, there’s often a bit of a contradiction to deal with. The justification will usually be that new homes are needed, so that suggests that you should pack in as many units as possible. On the other hand, all new developments are meant to fit in with the character of the area – and often, outside of inner cities, that can mean big gardens etc.
So we started off by analysing the village. It wasn’t kind of the English village you would find in a Hollywood movie – most of it had been built post-World War II. When we started working on master plans of the street layout, we took our lead from the waves of medium-scale developments that had created the place we were trying to fit in with. However, for our suggestions of the kind of house design that would work with the master plan, we took inspiration from the durable and reassuring local 18th and 19th homes.
At the same time, the site was been thoroughly mapped and checked with topographical, tree and ecological surveys to understand exactly what was there and how the fauna and flora might be affected by what we were proposing. It’s crucial to understand that “undeveloped” doesn’t necessarily mean high in biodiversity (just as “previously developed” doesn’t always mean low in biodiversity) – and here the preliminary results suggested that we could both build homes and make the site richer in plants and wildlife.
A project of this kind is always going to require patience. We started by getting pre-application advice from the council and followed that with an outline application, based on the case law that has built up around that very vague phrase “limited infilling in villages”.
That’s just the start, and we’re aware that there’s a long way to go before anything gets built on this site. But when you are considering building somewhere that (rightly or wrongly) is considered controversial, you need to know that it is going to be a slow and difficult process. But if you tackle every stage with care, thought and a bit of imagination, you’ve got a chance of succeeding.
We'll keep you up to date with how this one turns out...
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