Yes, you read that right! Green Belt Planning Permission is not impossible.
Did you know that:
Find out all the essentials about green belts and learn how to get planning permission to build on them.
As a property entrepreneur, have you ever thought about buying a patch of green belt land to build your own house or to construct homes for property investment?
Or like many landowners, have you ever thought about building your dream home in the countryside? Imagine what it would be like to get Planning Permission for green belt land!
I’ll explain why Green Belts should be used for development – and show you how to develop a design so you can compile an effective application for your green belt planning permission application.
I’ll examine Green Belt planning loopholes, evaluate development opportunities, discuss why we should build on UK Green Belts and explain how you can get planning permission to do so.
There’s no sugar-coating the fact that London is in the middle of possibly its greatest housing crisis. Official figures show that by 2020, the average property value in London could reach £1 million, and social housing waiting-list figures show that there are almost 350,000 houses in demand.
According to London councils’ analysis of housing statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and Greater London Authority, 526,000 new homes must be built in London between 2011 and 2021 just to keep up with current housing demand.
A further 283,000 homes would also be required to meet both new demand and the backlog of housing need in London.
An article in The Telegraph claims that the majority of Theresa May’s Cabinet want the Prime Minister to relax green belt restrictions to help tackle the housing crisis. The article quotes Simon Clarke, a Tory member of the Commons Treasury select committee, pointing out that “the green belt does not, as most people might reasonably assume, correlate with ‘green’ or ‘environmentally protected’ land” such as national parks and areas of outstanding national beauty (AONBs).
So what does it all mean?
Quite simply, house prices have increased as the supply of houses cannot meet the demand in urban areas due to developments being constrained by green belt land that isn’t fit for purpose. Those without adequate income find themselves pushed out, and in many cases, they’re forced to make long-distance commutes to get to work across the very green belt that is restricting development.
How will this issue be dealt with? The answer is simple: by opening up green belt land for development.
Let’s start by defining what green belt land actually is. The designation of green belts is a policy issue and not always applicable to the wider countryside.
In summary, green belt sites are designated zones around major towns, cities and settlements whose fundamental purpose is to prevent urban sprawl. They are categorised by their openness and permanence, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that building on them is an absolute no-no.
In essence, like most things, it comes down to government and the respective policies that are in place. In July 2018, the government published guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) aimed at protecting green belt land.
But here’s the interesting thing – a press release which preceded this paper on 5 March 2018, from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), emphasised that councils should prioritise brownfield sites for redevelopment. The release strongly suggested that green belt land should be prioritised at all costs to limit urban sprawl as much as possible.
And there’s more! The MHCLG went so far as to suggest that once green belt land has been identified, it is only in the most “exceptional of circumstances” that any type of development could be approved on this land. The MHCLG guidance on green belt development opportunities states clearly that the NPPF must be read thoroughly and applied as a whole; that the ‘need for development’ is not a sound enough reason when councils develop their local plans. A strategic housing land availability assessment must consider the following factors:
However, getting Planning Permission for your green belt development may be easier than you think. Email me your queries today and we can have a more in depth discussion on your next steps.
Generally, the government’s position on planning permission for green belt development is one of extreme caution to avoid controversy. Their objective is to protect Green Belts at all costs and to encourage developers to build on brownfield (and non-green belt) countryside.
However, in December 2016, the Government ministers publicly backed a “swaps” scheme for green belt development.
This policy enabled councils to meet their demanding housing targets by freeing up areas for development in return for a separate area of land, which would then be protected. National government could support this by changing the NPPF to allow councils to swap other categories of land, such as low-grade agricultural, rather than just brownfield sites, as is the case now.
The bottom line: this plan requires no net loss of green belt and enhances the landscape. It can target housing in key areas of need, ensuring that a small percentage of land has high impact. (Indeed, there are successful examples of this plan in action). With this method, major developers could access land that is usually outside of their control and that is below current residential land prices. There are a few minor issues to be resolved, however. To solidify the “swaps” scheme it would take full public endorsement by political leaders who support opening up green belt land. This, in turn, may be misconstrued by certain members of the public. But you can’t please everybody!
Surprisingly, this method could create a mini-industry in speculative land trading in green belt areas, making cheap land release much harder as landowners hold out for high prices. To solve this problem, policymakers can put a cap on price limits for landowners to release their plot of land subject to each area. This is something the council will have to consider.
Certain factions within Parliament understand the pressing need for freeing up green belt land, particularly those areas that are a mere 45 minutes away from London and just a 10-minute walk from the train stations. Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, recently introduced a motion entitled “Housing and London’s Green Belt” wherein the political leader lamented the intense need for London housing. Whilst recognising the value of protecting certain portions of green belts, she urged the chamber to acknowledge “the important opportunity that this land offers with space for over 1 million new homes.” She added: “There should be a presumption in favour of housebuilding on this land.”
In an article published in May, MP McDonagh criticised the lame-duck government for producing “a never-ending flow of reports, discussions, words and promises” without ever actually doing anything. She pointed out that Theresa May and her ministers have failed to reach the intended goal of 300,000 new houses per year, despite the fact that a mere 10 minutes from Tottenham Hale Station there exists a barren concrete wasteland bearing the unfortunate title of green belt land – and there are many similar sites. She questioned why we shouldn’t build new houses in wasteland environments, and strongly recommended building on areas that are only green in name?
Green belt land helps sustain the environment, adds character to a particular area or borough and should be treated with respect.
But there are many reasons why building on green belt land can be a viable option too, and that means many opportunities to get green belt Planning Permission.
I appreciate that the value of Green Belt land to prevent urban sprawl and offer environmental protection, but I also don’t believe that the scattered plots of Green Belt land play an essential role in preventing urban sprawl. Therefore we need to recognise the crucial opportunity that many green plots offer for building over 1 million new homes.
Before we go any further, let’s examine those reasons:
In reality, green belts do not stop urban areas from growing, they just redistribute that growth into more rural settings.
Larger towns and cities develop a commuter belt for main roads/routes and rail links into the city. For example, London’s commuter belt stretches from the Isle of Wight to (arguably) South Yorkshire!
Green Belt Land Map
Percentage of Commuters Map
Before we go any further, we need to understand that moving housing developments beyond the Green Belt means that commuters have farther to travel, which has a detrimental effect on the environment, as well as people’s quality of life.
The media might paint Britain as a land of pavement and urban sprawl, but in fact, the opposite is true. Britain is still a green and pleasant land without vast swathes of concrete!
We can easily debunk the ‘concrete myth’ with some figures…
Only 10.6% of England is actually built upon, and if you take the whole of the UK, this figure drops further to 6.8%. Rather impressive, right?
You may have already realised that allotments, parks, gardens and sporting pitches/fields are counted in this number. If you remove these, the figure drops to a paltry 2.27%.
But how much does the Green Belt cover? 12% of England. That’s right, only 12%.
As we’ve already mentioned, the sole purpose of the green belt is to prevent urban sprawl. The land itself often has no inherent natural beauty, ecological value or agricultural purpose, as opposed to a national park or AONB land. In fact, the majority of green belt land is low-quality scrub land and is designated as such to contain the surrounding city or town.
Have you ever wondered why? This land can even be used for high-intensity farming, and most of it is privately owned and inaccessible to the public.
Crucially, England is plagued with severe housing shortfalls, particularly in the south-east and London, and – this is not unconnected – this area also has the largest amount of green belt land. Building on just 25% of the green belt land inside the M25 would allow for just over one million new homes to be built. This would be a substantial gain in the current housing crisis. And whilst commuting into London means travelling through suburban landscapes, you can’t help feeling that it’s a price worth paying to have one million homes on the market.
Whether these are affordable homes, social housing, or privately developed and sold is actually of little importance. Building more homes in sufficiently large quantities will have a significant impact on the market, and as a result, you will see housing prices fall in tandem with the private rental market. Those who were sharing will be able to afford their own place, and those with too little space will be able to choose something bigger.
Essentially, Green Belt land drives up inequality by putting up barriers to those who can’t afford to live in city centres. On the other hand, it relegates city dwellers to increasingly tighter, more densely populated areas.
So what can we do about it? Clearly we need to open up green belt land to more housing development, especially in the South East and London, and obtaining Green Belt planning permission is not impossible.
The NPPF states that local planning authorities shouldn’t approve the construction of new buildings unless they propose the following exceptions:
In short, getting planning permission for green belt land – while difficult – is possible given the right circumstances.
Paragraph 145 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that “inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.” Therefore, the construction of any new buildings would be considered inappropriate development on Green Belts, and as such, you would be required to submit a case for “very special circumstances” which must outweigh the resulting harm to green belt land.
Exceptions to the inappropriateness of new buildings include limited infilling in villages which would not have a greater impact on the openness of the green belt. Now the question remains: What qualifies as an infill development?
Previous case law has classified infill developments as sites that are within or immediately adjacent to built-up areas, given the sites have good physical infrastructure provision and transport connections, and would have already been developed if not for their status as green belt land. This kind of development is less impactful than isolated sites that are less sustainable. Infill developments do not ‘harm’ the green belt because they do not constitute urban sprawl and therefore do not impede the openness or purpose of the green belt.
Another important factor to take into account is design quality! Securing new development on Green Belt land will depend on aspects of design quality. According to Paragraph 11 of the NPPF, there is a presumption in favour of development for buildings or infrastructure that promote high levels of sustainability. So, getting Green Belt Planning Permission relies on the quality of your design.
The NPPF states that a development can be permitted if of high architectural value and quality. If the setting, heritage and surrounding context have been integrated into development, the chances are much higher for approval. Paragraph 79 puts emphasis on the exceptional quality or innovative nature of the design of the dwelling. Again, such design should:
To give you an idea, an example of great architectural design on Green Belt land can be seen in the Passivhaus design below. This is a new build family dwelling we proposed for construction in a Green Belt area in Surrey.
Here’s the most important part: due to its high levels of sustainability and architectural merits, the design (see below) ticks the boxes for high standards of value and quality – imagine living in a house like this on a beautiful plot of green belt land…
Passivhaus Design by Architect Irkus Altuna RIBA, Urbanist Architecture
Another successful example is the development of Zero Carbon Homes. These are high-quality luxurious homes which are surrounded by forest and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and they can add great value and character to the sense of place. These examples, as seen below, drastically improve the existing setting and are well integrated into the landscape.
If you are serious about implementing Paragraph 79’s requirements by designing and building an eco-home, read RIBA Chartered Architect Irkus Altuna’s latest article, 9 Things to Consider When Building an Eco Home, featured in Homebuilding & Renovating magazine.
But let’s be honest – not everyone wants to build a brand new development from scratch. So there are other ways around developments, – such as extensions on green belt land – they take time to get right, but it can be done!
Ideally, you need two consultants to help you: an expert in Green Belt planning permission and a chartered architect specialising in Green Belts to ensure that your development is feasible, as each project is assessed on its own merits.
Meeting housing development needs is a key principle of good planning and crucial to supporting sustainable economic development. Allowing appropriate development on green belt land presents an excellent opportunity to provide new homes. The government has set out plans to relax the rules around developing on green belt land, which will hopefully present more relevant development opportunities. If the consultation proposals are accepted, councils would be permitted to allow smaller scale, starter home developments to be built on green belt land.
As a rule, green belt development is still largely prohibited, but under these plans, private developers would be allowed to build starter homes, which would be 20% cheaper than a regular house. With constant debate around the major housing crisis in the south-east, this will impact on the amount of green belt land available for development.
We can all agree that the green belt should be opened up to development. To that end, the housing crisis can be considered an “exceptional circumstance,” giving councils the freedom to do what’s required and permit development on duly considered Green Belt land.
To summarise: whilst building on Green Belts is difficult, it’s not impossible. There have been significant changes in green belt policies, and the number of green belt developments has increased, which means it’s becoming a more palatable option for smart landowners, house builders, property developers and property investors.
Getting Planning Permission for your development on the Green Belt may be easier than you think. If you have any further questions, please email me today for an in-depth conversation.
Update: with respect for your time, we would like to inform you that we do not take on projects with less than a £400k construction budget. In our experience, we have found that we are unable to properly serve clients working with smaller budget on Green Belt projects.