What lies ahead for green belt land – how green is the future?

DateSep 13, 2017
AuthorAlice Hopkins

Alice Hopkins is an environmental consultant at Groundsure. In this blog, Alice discusses the future of green belt land in the UK. If you have any questions or comments about this blog, you can contact the commercial consultancy team at commercial@groundsure.com.

What is the green belt?

England’s green belts are areas of land protected from development with an aim to prevent urban sprawl and keep the land permanently open. The five key purposes of green belts are the following:

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

The National Planning Policy Framework states that inappropriate development is harmful to the green belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances (1).


Where are they?

Green belts are located in the land surrounding towns and cities, including Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge and all over the UK. The Metropolitan Green Belt is the largest green belt which surrounds Greater London and extends into counties including Bedfordshire and Surrey. (2) Green belts increased from 721,500 hectares in 1979 to 1,649,640 hectares in 1997 and they currently cover approximately 13% of England, however the areas have been reduced in recent years. (3)

map of green belt areas

Map of green belt areas

Statistics published by the Government in 2015 provide details of the changes in the size of the green belt as a whole over the last 10 years and can be seen in Figure 1, below. (3)

figure 1 - green belt

Figure 1 - Trend in the area of green belt land since 1997 (Ha)


The significant reduction in 2006 was due to a large part of the South West Hampshire Green Belt being re-designated as the New Forest National Park. (4) Net loss between the years 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 was 2000 hectares, mainly from Newcastle upon Tyne and Rushcliffe local authority areas. (3)

Case Study – Burbages Lane, Coventry

One example of a proposed development encroaching on green belt land is the Burbages Lane Development near Coventry. The development is proposed for 47 properties (5) and is situated adjacent to a row of long established properties and partially within a designated of the Birmingham green belt. The site outline and the green belt boundary can be seen in Figure 2, below.

figure 2 - green belt

Figure 2- Map showing the proposed site and green belt boundaries. Map data c.2017 Google Earth

The north western green belt area will be developed into two residential properties and the eastern region will be used as communal land. A wildlife corridor will also be established linking the two areas of green belt, with the aim to allow species to still travel freely. The development was given outline approval in August 2016 after councillors weighed the need for housing in the area against the loss of green belt land. (6)

What is the future for green belts in the UK?

There are currently two opposing views on the preservation of green belts; some who view green belts as a hindrance to relieving the housing shortage and others who wish to protect England’s green spaces. Local Authorities are under pressure to meet the housing targets set in their Local Plans and many potential development areas are restricted due to green belt regulation. At the beginning of 2017, the number of homes being planned on green belt land reached more than 360,000. (7) The number of homes granted planning permission on a green belt increased from 2,258 in the year 2009/10 to nearly 12,000 in 2014/15. Councils across the country are granting planning applications on green belt land which would have previously been protected. In particular, the Mayor of Greater Manchester – Andy Burnham - has based one pledge in his election manifesto on redrawing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, which includes green belt land. (8)

So what do you think? Should green belt land be sacrificed in order to ease the current housing crisis or should the green belt remain as protected land with other housing solutions being sought?

Groundsure offer environmental searches and reports, including Avista, Screening Search, Homebuyers Search, Planview Search and Enviro Insight, which cover designated environmentally sensitive sites, such as green belt, Local Nature Reserves and National Parks. For more information, visit www.groundsure.com/search-reports.


  1. Department for Communities and Local Government, 2016. Local Planning Authority Green belt: England 2015/2016. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551240/Green_Belt_Statistics_England_2015-16.pdf [Accessed 25th April 2017]
  2. The Telegraph, 2012. Interactive map: England's green belt. [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/greenpolitics/planning/9708387/Interactive-map-Englands-green-belt.html [Accessed 25th April 2017]
  3. House of Commons Library, 2016. Green Belt Briefing Paper 00934. Available at: parliament.uk/commons-library [Accessed 25th April 2017]
  4. Natural England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, 2010. Green Belts: a greener future. Available at: http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/green-belts/item/1956-green-belts-a-greener-future [Accessed 25th April 2017]
  5. Coventry City Council, 2016. Planning application CC/2016/135 - Consultation by Warwickshire County Council on application 033285 for residential development for up to 47 dwellings and associated areas of open space. Available at: http://planning.coventry.gov.uk/portal/servlets/ApplicationSearchServlet?PKID=783665 [Accessed 8th August 2017]
  6. The Coventry Telegraph, 2017. Plans for affordable homes to be built on green belt land approved. Available at: http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/plans-affordable-homes-built-green-11803242 [Accessed 8th August 2017]
  7. The Guardian, 2017. English green belt set to get 360,000 new homes. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/15/homes-planned-for-green-belt-have-risen-to-360000-in-england [Accessed 10th May 2017]
  8. Manchester Evening News, 2017. New mayor Andy Burnham to rewrite controversial green belt masterplan [online] Available at: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/new-mayor-andy-burnham-rewrite-13022270 [Accessed 16th May 2017]