Loosening the green belt

Many planning authorities are reviewing their green belt boundaries in order to overcome land shortages and meet strategic development targets. Motion is helping house builders get small, medium and large parcels of undeveloped land released.

The government recently reiterated its commitment to protecting the green belt, which is estimated to comprise more than 1.6 million hectares of land in England. Review may only take place through preparation of, or changes to, the Local Plan.

Demonstrating that land in the green belt is suitable to be brought forward for development is one of the challenges addressed by Motion’s team of transport assessment, travel planning and infrastructure design experts.

Managing Director Phil Bell argues, “Land with development potential can be ‘blighted’ by the green belt label. We work with the relevant authorities to turn this situation around.” Principally, the site needs to be considered a sustainable location in economic, social and environmental terms. Nearby employment, educational, health and retail facilities which can be accessed by non-car transport modes contribute to the justification.

Government policy on protection of the green belt is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). One of its aims is to ‘prevent urban sprawl by keeping land open’. Limited affordable housing and limited infill are exceptions to the rule.

Detailed preparation
Phil Bell reflects, “A house builder can greatly improve the chances of approval with detailed preparation. Access to the site is key and early work to identify a successful strategy is crucial. Access is invariably provided by a T-junction, although provision of appropriate visibility splays can be a constraining factor. We look for ways to reduce these requirements, for instance by slowing traffic speeds or by negotiating flexibility in the calculation of stopping distances.”

Phil adds, “Local communities can benefit from land being released from the green belt. Further development within a defined catchment area can help to make local amenities and services more viable.” By 2012 the government was already incentivising local authorities to use existing laws to review the extent of their green belt land. It offered to prioritise the examination of Local Plans in order to accelerate economic development.

Previous calls by the Institute of Directors for land to be released from the green belt to promote house building, have been welcomed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD has been critical of the green belt status being used as an obstacle to residential development.

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the Autumn 2014 issue of Insight.

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