The Green Belt is a planning designation which aims to strictly control inappropriate development to protect the countryside from encroachment, prevent urban sprawl and stop neighbouring towns from merging into one another. What is defined as appropriate development in the Green Belt has a very narrow definition and as such most types of development including residential are deemed inappropriate in this context.
Green Belt designation is one of the highest levels of protection that the planning system can afford an area of land from development. As a result, securing planning permission to develop in the Green Belt can be a challenge.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that securing planning permission for new homes in the Green Belt is impossible, but you will need a strong justification for it. There are however several approaches to securing planning permission in the Green Belt and we explore these below.
1. Removing land from the Green Belt through the Local Plan process
National planning policy (NPPF) allows Local Planning Authority’s to remove land from the Green Belt when they are preparing their Local Plans – however they need to demonstrate in their evidence that there are “exceptional circumstances” for doing so.
While a shortage of land for new homes can be considered exceptional circumstances, councils must first demonstrate that:
they’ve used as much brownfield land as possible;
have optimised the density of development; and,
have considered whether neighbouring councils can help meet their housing need.
Although this is the route that is most likely to prove successful, it is dependent on the timing of the Local Plan process and this will require investing time and effort in promoting your site above those of others as being a more sustainable site for future development. There is also likely to be stiff competition from other land owners attempting to get their sites allocated for residential development and the Local Planning Authority will only release as much land as necessary from the Green Belt to meet its development needs for the plan period.
The Local Plan process can be a highly politicised process as has been seen in the recent rewriting of the Greater Manchester Spatial Strategy and the Wirral Local Plan where significant opposition to Green Belt development caused a rethink by local politicians. There is therefore a clear tension between the Government promoting increased housebuilding and local politicians representing the wishes of their local electorate and it is a difficult tightrope to walk.
2. Redevelopment of Previously Developed Land
It is worth noting that not all Green Belt was created equal or has the same value for that matter. Rather than the public perception of rolling green fields, much of the Green Belt is far less attractive in reality. Often the Green Belt will include sites that already have development on them.
Where land is classed as Previously Developed Land, sites can often be redeveloped to provide new homes. There are some restrictions on the amount of development that is allowed, to ensure that the openness of the Green Belt is maintained and the new buildings should have no more of an impact on the Green Belt than that of the existing development footprint on site.
3. Conversion of Agricultural Buildings
Agricultural buildings don’t normally constitute ‘Previously Developed Land’ which prevents their demolition and replacement with homes. However, they can often be converted into residential use utilising permitted developed rights under Class Q of the General Permitted Development Order. There are, though, some constraints on the use of these rights – no more than five homes can be created, for example, and there are some size restrictions, although these are fairly generous following further relaxation of the permitted development rules in 2018.
4. “Infill” Development
Building a new property on a gap site in an existing built frontage is another possibility. The logic being that a new building in an existing frontage would not cause additional harm to the openness of the Green Belt through the extension of the built form. Whether or not this applies can be very subjective and is usually quite strictly interpreted by Local Planning Authorities. Clearly, building a six-bed detached property set back from the road behind the existing building line is unlikely to cut the mustard, however a sensitively designed property which respects the existing pattern of development may well be deemed appropriate ‘infill’ development.
5. Affordable housing on Green Belt land
Demand for affordable housing is a concern right across the country and this can be particularly acute in rural locations. The NPPF makes provision for exception sites for new affordable homes to be allowed in the Green Be
lt to meet this need. However, this exception only applies where there is a demonstrable need and evidence to support this
6. “Very special circumstances” for developing Green Belt Land
This requires the identification of some benefit of the proposed development that could be delivered on this specific site, but nowhere else. A shortage of housing land does not represent very special circumstances, but there are other factors which could do.Enabling development may be justified to generate funding to repair and bring back into economic use a listed building that has fallen into disrepair and is on the ‘At Risk’ register. New homes could also be required in order to the expansion of an adjacent school. The delivery of a “Paragraph 79” house or a home for an agricultural or forestry work are also considered to be types of very special circumstances and these are explained in further detail below
7. A so-called “Paragraph 79” house
To satisfy the requirements of Paragraph 79 of the NPPF, the design of a house must be of exceptional quality – that it is so “outstanding and innovative” that it would “significantly enhance its immediate setting.” That quality must be so high that it will off-set the harm to the Green Belt. This usually only applies to single dwellings on large sites remote from existing settlements.
Convincing a Local Planning Authority to relax its Green Belt policies to accommodate such a dwelling is likely to prove challenging as it is likely they will adopt a safety-first approach rather than risk setting a precedent and opening the floodgates to similar proposals across the district. Many such proposals invariably end up the subject of a planning appeal with varying degrees of success, although the Planning Inspectorate seem to be more open minded on the matter, it is still a challenge to convince an inspector with more failing than succeeding
8. Building Homes for Agricultural or Forestry Workers
The NPPF acknowledges the need for an agricultural or forestry worker to live in a specific location in specific circumstances. There are various reasons why it might be necessary for such a worker to live on site, such as animal welfare which can constitute the very special circumstances required to allow a new home in the Green Belt.
However, using this exemption requires the production of credible evidence of the need for the worker to live on site as well as evidence that there is no other suitable accommodation nearby. Where a site is in close proximity to properties in other settlements, it can often be difficult to prove that no alternative exists.
Securing planning permission for your development in the Green Belt is certainly not a cakewalk, but equally if you approach it with eyes wide open and understand the risks and how to mitigate these then there is reason for optimism that you might be able to develop. Having an experienced Planning Consultant by your side who understands the nuances of Green Belt planning policies as well as the idiosyncrasies of the local political landscape is vital and this should be your first port of call before engaging an Architect or other professionals on your project.
We also have experience designing new build developments that range from one-off new builds to large scale urban developments. We have expertise in conjunction with Paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In addition to architectural design services outlined in the 16 A Client Journey, we offer site finding and site evaluation services drawing upon our detailed knowledge of planning policy.
please check out some of our greenbelt projects here for further information or if you have a plot of land to discuss please click here https://www.studio16architecture.co.uk/our-work
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