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What is Green Belt, and should I worry?

Paul Vernon

Paul Vernon · Surveyor (retired)

With rare exceptions, before the Second World war, there were relatively few restrictions on building in the countryside. This led to the fear that unconstrained development would lead to towns and cities merging into one big sprawl and the loss of the “green lungs” that surrounded centres of population. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 consolidated a raft of differing policies and introduced “Green Belt” into legislation. For the purposes of this article, the Green Belt exists to provide a framework for resisting inappropriate development in the rural areas surrounding built up towns and cities.

One consultant has described the purpose of including land in Green Belt as:

  1. To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas.
  2. To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another.
  3. To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
  4. To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns.
  5. To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Not all land outside built up areas is designated as Green Belt. They are mainly identified as a ring of designated land of differing widths around some major cities. In England, Green Belt was estimated at about 12% of the land area in 2019 [pdf].

Green Belt Map

Below is a map showing the MyNestBox green belt data in England. Get in touch if you have questions about the data.

Should I worry?

The creation a Green Belt doesn't have a retrospective impact on houses. Remember, the purpose of Green Belt is to control inappropriate future development, so it is reasonable to assume that if the house you are looking to buy is in Green Belt, then it has a right to be there. Your solicitor, when processing the conveyancing for your purchase, will undertake several searches of which one should be the legitimacy of its planning status. Presuming this check comes back ok then your new home has every right to be in a Green Belt.

What you should be aware of is the potential for restrictions on any future development at your new home. Generally, you should be able to assume that you can propose extensions or alterations (even sometimes demolition) to an existing property, as long as it's in proportion to the original. You might even be able to undertake limited infilling (infill plots could be a large side garden, an outbuilding between two houses, or maybe an access way) within existing development boundaries. What you should not assume is that you can buy a house with lots of land and then be able to split the land and create building plots and recoup some of your purchase costs. In some cases this may be feasible but you should seek specific advice if that is on your mind.

You might think of the Planning System as confusing and a bit of a closed shop, but your local Planning Officer only wants an easy life. Strange to believe, but there is often more paperwork involved in refusing a Planning Application than there is in allowing one. It's always worthwhile running your ideas past your local Planning Officer beforehand if you are considering changes to a property. They can often give you an indication of how they might view any proposal and if they have reservations and may be able to suggest changes to ensure your plans fit their criteria for approval. The reality is that, for most of us, our engagement with the Planning System is when we want to make changes to our homes, extend them or even replace them. Subject to size and scale, these are usually considered to be exceptions to the normal presumption against development and are often permissible works in a Green Belt.

Exceptions

People often hear “Green Belt” and presume the worst, however what we’ve discussed here also relates to the majority of the countryside. For normal, residential improvement and development the fact that your new home is in a Green Belt won’t mean much of an additional burden, in fact it could well be the opposite However if you are looking at a property in a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (National Scenic Area in Scotland) or a Conservation Area, then higher standards apply and you should definitely speak to the Planning Officer and/or seek specialist advice.

Would I buy a house in the Green Belt?

Certainly. I'd satisfy myself that it's Planning Consent status was in order, and I'd also make sure my solicitor did too. This is usually quite straightforward these days by going to the Local Authority's planning website (which can be found through the Planning Portal) and searching the planning history of the property. You can also see what your potential neighbours have been up to as well!

If that all checks out OK, then I would have no reservations about buying a house in Green Belt at all. In fact, I'd have the comfort that my rural idyll would have more safeguards against future development than many others.

About the author

Now retired after 40 years in the energy sector, Paul qualified as a Mining Surveyor and worked in a variety of roles involved in coal mining and land reclamation before transferring to the renewable energy sector where he developed renewable energy schemes. Key to this was an awareness of the issues and challenges that face development schemes of any nature. Particular skills range from site identification through property negotiations, project design and consenting to pre- construction Condition Discharge and design refinement of consented projects.