A Green Belt fit for London

The capital’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares

There are many social, environmental and economic benefits of having Green Belt around our cities and in particular around London, all of which are highlighted in the report; A positive vision for London’s Green Belt by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Green Belt. The APPG was set up in 2017 with the aim of protecting the Green Belt from Inappropriate development.

London’s Green Belt is often in the news and was in the spotlight following the release of the London Plan examination report in October 2019.

The report included a recommendation that the Mayor commits to a Green Belt review, in order to close the gap between housing need and supply in London. Despite this, within his December 2019 response he did not accept the recommendation to commit to a review and instead will focus on higher densities across London and existing brownfield sites.

London’s Green Belt extends to over half a million hectares and is the largest of England’s 14 Green Belts. A large proportion of London’s Green Belt is designated as either Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (24%), Priority Habitat (13%), Site of Special Scientific Interest (5%) or Woodland (18%).

Extent of Green Belt surrounding London

The designations above all offer varying levels of protection against harmful development. With regards to Green Belt release, it’s clearly set out within the NPPF 2019 that the aim of the Green Belt is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open unless Exceptional Circumstances can be demonstrated.

The London Plan Examination report questions the level of protection attributed to the entirety of the Green Belt and boldly states that ‘it is implausible to insist that the Green Belt is entirely sacrosanct without considering what it comprises’.

Around 8% of the Green Belt is developed with many recreational uses included, there are also a large number of neglected and derelict brownfield sites which provide limited contribution to the purpose of the Green Belt. If these sites are not serving a Green Belt purpose and could accommodate Sustainable Development then should Local Authorities not identify these sites for releases?

Well, they are starting to and over the coming years we’re likely to see London Boroughs actively looking to revise Green Belt boundaries due to increasing pressures on housing supply. This is crucial to meeting the capitals housing crisis and although it’s evident that London’s Green Belt does play an important role in preventing urban sprawl, I think it is possible to release a relatively small amount of Green Belt land without jeopardising its functioning role now or in the future.
With the APPG for London’s Green Belt and the Mayor seemingly not looking to support a high level Green Belt review, I think the next 10 years will see a greater disconnect between the Government/Greater London Authority and individual London Authorities.

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