Green Light for Green Belt?

Can we get green light on green belts for building “green” houses? This is one of the questions which triggered our mind recently and we thought we should have a look at this in detail.

In 2018, about 12.5% – 1,629,510 hectares – of England’s land area was designated as green belt. Developers are very cautious about investing in these as there is a 50-50 chance – or worse – of gaining planning permission… Is this trend about to change? There are movements to release more land for residential developments, let`s see what is happening in the North West.

Local authorities in the North West have built homes on 0.2% of their Green Belt land – according to Government figures* – which is below the national average.

0.2% of Green Belt in the region is currently taken up by housing, compared to a national average of 0.3%. (*Ministry of Communities, Housing & Local Government and covering authorities in England)

Manchester has the highest proportion of developed Green Belt in the North West. Of the region’s local authorities, Bury, Stockport, and Wyre have the highest amount of Green Belt developed for residential use at 0.5%.

Several Greater Manchester authorities will see chunks of land come out of the Green Belt if the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) is adopted. However, it seemed to be a controversial plan: thousands of people protested in Oldham against it. The mayor, Andy Burnham had to rewrite the document. The new version aims for slightly fewer new homes than previously, from 227,000 to 201,000. Around 15 green belt sites have been removed from the plan altogether.

On the other hand, there are signs of giving Green Light for Green Belt. For example, Warrington Borough Council’s Local Plan will see 18,900 homes built by 2037 of which 7,064 would be on green belt land. These include 5,000 homes in a new “garden suburb” near the M6 Lymm interchange, 1,600 on land near the River Mersey and 1,100 around Lymm, Culcheth and Burtonwood.

According to the statistics, planning committee members in the North West were focusing less on preserving the Green Belt, with a shift in priorities to providing more affordable homes. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) also uses its initiative to allow more lands available for development which is in their “Future Place” report:

“A process needs to be established for assembling sites and managing land development that is rebalanced in favour of the public interest and quicker delivery. Local authorities should be supported in engaging effectively with stakeholders in the land-assembly process, with compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) available as a last resort.”

It is necessary to apply more innovative ways of bringing land forward and incentivising the use of small plots using the following methods:

  • amendment of embedded planning conditions.
  • land vesting and stakeholder engagement (use of CPO as a last resort)
  • diversifying the market by allocating land for SME, community-led and custom-build developers alongside the majors

Formerly classed green belt areas are ideal for using MMC due to the following factors:

Off-site construction has the potential to deliver development more quickly, with reduced impact on the local environment, and to far higher standards than is possible with traditional building methods. It can also create improved working conditions, avoid seasonal disruption of site work.

Environmentally sustainable places will not only play their part in a low-carbon future but will provide a legacy which coming generations will be proud of. In our own time, homes in healthy, clean, resource-efficient neighbourhoods in the right places are more likely to attract potential owners or tenants by costing less to run from the start and retaining inherent value in the long term. Masterpeace focuses on finding a holistic solution that is in tune with the planners and local residents for greenbelt development projects.