Green Belt History

The concept of Green Belt was initially suggested in the late 19th century. In 1898, Ebenezer Howard's proposed Garden Cities were intended to be "planned, self-contained, communities surrounded by greenbelts, containing carefully balanced areas of  residences, industry, and agriculture" In the 1930s the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) campaigned for a clear barrier of undeveloped land against ribbon development and urban sprawl. As a result of these campaigns and other local initiatives, the first Green Belts were designated in London and Sheffield, the former assisted by an Act of Parliament in 1938. By 1955, Green Belts were firmly supported by both national planning legislation and policy. CPRE has continued to be involved in campaigning for Green Belt designation, and permanent protection, in many parts of the country.

  1898    Garden City movement – Ebenezer Howard proposes Garden Cities surrounded by Green Belts.
  1926   Formation of CPRE, one of whose earliest campaigns was against urban sprawl.
  1935   First Green Belt proposed in an official planning policy by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee "to provide a reserve supply of public open space and of recreational areas and to establish a Green Belt or girdle of open space."
  1938   Sheffield Green Belt designated by local government.
  1938   Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act.
  1947   Town and Country Planning Act, allowed local authorities to control changes in the use of land from undeveloped to developed uses.
  1955   Green Belt policy for England was set out in Ministry of Housing and Local Government Circular 42/55 which invited local planning authorities to consider the establishment of Green Belts in their area.
  1959   Metropolitan Green Belt fully designated in local plans.
  1986   Completion of M25 motorway, running largely through the Metropolitan Green Belt.
  1988   Circular42/55 replaced with Planning Policy Guidance Note 2.
  1995   PPG2 amended to add positive objectives for Green Belt land.
  2001   Current version of PPG2 issued

Green Belt Policy

The Government policy on Green Belts is contained in Planning Policy Guidance 2 (PPG2) which is the current responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG). The five purposes of Green Belts, set out in PPG2, are:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns from merging with one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist with urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

The policy in PPG2 clearly states that the most important attributes of Green Belts are their openness and permanence. Local authorities must have regard to Green Belt policy in preparing spatial plans and the policy in PPG2 can also be a material consideration in reaching decisions on individual planning applications and appeals.

The area covered by Green Belt is set through strategic level planning. Since 2004 this planning has been done through the Regional Spatial Strategies with detailed boundaries fixed by Local Development Frameworks. Any changes have to be justified to the Secretary of State who will need to be convinced that exceptional circumstances exist and alternatives have been considered. Permanence means that Green Belt boundaries should endure for longer than the life of a development plan and not be reviewed every time a local or strategic development plan is reviewed. A record of change is maintained by CLG11. Development within Green Belts is strictly controlled and there is a general presumption against inappropriate development.

Development considered appropriate includes: some mineral extraction; small-scale infill development within villages; the extension/re-use of existing buildings; and development strictly required in connection with agriculture, forestry and outdoor sport and recreation. Where any large-scale development or redevelopment of land occurs, including mineral extraction, landfill, road proposals, or high voltage electricity pylons this is often off-set by contributing towards Green Belt land use objectives or adding to the Green Belt boundary in another location.

Land Use Objectives

The most recent version of PPG2 (1995), officially recognised for the first time that Green Belts can contribute to other land use goals beyond their purposes. PPG2 states that these additional objectives are not a factor in the designation or continued protection of Green Belt land. This is for two principal reasons: (i) because to make them so would be an active incentive for landowners who wanted to develop their land, to let the quality of the land deteriorate and (ii) they would provide a justification for development to enable improvement which would often contradict the primary purposes and the presumption against most forms of new development. Whilst, therefore, Green Belts should not be designated to take account of these, once designated Green Belts can  contribute to the following objectives:

  • to provide opportunities for access to the open countryside for the urban population;
  • to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation near urban areas;
  • to retain attractive landscapes, and enhance landscapes, near to where people live;
  • to improve damaged and derelict land around towns;
  • to secure nature conservation interest; and
  • to retain land in agriculture, forestry and related uses.

Although not added to Green Belt policy until the mid 1990s, the idea that Green Belt land should provide public benefits has its roots in Ebenezer Howard's ideas at the beginning of the 20th century and in the 1938 London Green Belt Act. These objectives encourage a positive approach to the use of the land protected from urban sprawl, as well as providing a sense of the greater value and benefits that Green Belt land, once designated, can provide to society.


This article taken from the Natural England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) report entitled "Green Belts: a greener future". Click here to download the summary report (20 pages) or here for the full report (138 pages)

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