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10/02/2017

Housing White Paper: Does it actually do anything to protect the Green Belt?

Written by Hannah Anderson

Senior Account Executive

On Tuesday, the Government published its much anticipated Housing White Paper, Fixing our broken housing market, which covered a plethora of ways to remedy the housing shortage, from simplifying and strengthening local and neighbourhood planning, to addressing the skills shortage.

The White Paper also proposes to address the ever contentious issue of changes to the boundaries of Green Belt land. In his statement, The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said that “In 2015, we promised the British people that the Green Belt was safe in our hands. And that is still the case.”

Critics of the White Paper have suggested that these additions are too ambiguous, and really do not do much, if anything, to protect the Green Belt further. But is this really the case? Is development on Green Belt land about to get harder?

“Exceptional circumstances”

Previously, the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) guidance on Green Belt boundaries was that it could only be amended in exceptional circumstances, but never specified what this actually meant. The ambiguity of this statement could be to the benefit of either Local Authorities or developers. However, the White Paper builds on this guidance, in an effort to make the process more transparent and states that:

“Authorities should amend Green Belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting their identified development requirements”

This includes effective use of suitable brownfield sites, including estate regeneration, re-evaluating and densifying underused land and exploring whether neighbouring Local Authorities can help meet development needs.

It also proposes that, should there be no other reasonable options, developers will be required to off-set the loss of green space by providing improvements to the quality or accessibility of Green Belt land. There is also the possibility of raising the level of financial contributions for sites which are located on Green Belt land.

Certainly, the conditions for retaining current Green Belt designations rely upon Local Authorities (LA) to have comprehensive and up to date Local and Neighbourhood Plans that identify suitable sites, and have an appropriate agreed housing land supply. This could be the loophole, which developers can still use to develop on the Green Belt, particularly if the LA does not have the resource to immediately implement a water-tight plan.

Reactions

The Surrey Branch of CPRE has welcomed the proposals for Green Belt protection in the White Paper, particularly the use of brownfield sites and unused planning permissions. However, its Chief Executive, Shaun Spiers, has also raised concerns that “until local authorities are able to set realistic and deliverable housing targets… the Green Belt will continue to be threatened by poor quality and speculative development”.

By contrast, Redrow Chief Executive, John Tutte has criticised the White Paper, stating that Redrow “would have liked to have seen something more forceful on releasing the green belt”. London’s Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, Colin Stanbridge has echoed this sentiment, and commented that “Ministers should look to audit the existing London Green Belt and map brown space that has the potential for high densification, high quality homes to rent.”

On the one hand, the conditions for development on the Green Belt have certainly become less ambiguous on paper, but it also relies on Local Authorities’ capacity to review its land supply, brownfield sites and underused sites in a short space of time. Whether the White Paper has actually made any real contributions to preventing changes to the Green Belt boundaries remains to be seen over the coming months.

Want to know more about the Housing White Paper? Get in touch with one of our policy experts here.

development, housing, Planning, Housing Minister, UK Government, Housing White Paper, Green Belt