How the NPPF revisions change the system, Part 16: Green belt and designated areas

Now updated and expanded, this section in our series of briefings on the final revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) looks at its refinements to policy on green belt and other designated areas, and examines responses to their introduction from key sector organisations. [Updated 13/9/18]

Green belt: new rules proposed for how local authorities should decide whether 'exceptional circumstances' exist for green belt changes
Green belt: new rules proposed for how local authorities should decide whether 'exceptional circumstances' exist for green belt changes

Key changes introduced

The new NPPF reinforces the wording on amending green belt boundaries compared to the version in March's draft version of the document, saying that local authorities should alter boundaries only where exceptional circumstances are "fully evidenced and justified". Changes to green belt boundaries will only be accepted if supported by a statement of common ground showing that discussions have taken place with neighbouring authorities about their capacity to accommodate unmet housing need, it makes clear.

The draft version said that "once established, green belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or updating of plans". Paragraph 136 of the final says: "Once established, green belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, through the preparation or updating of plans". Paragraph 137 sets out these exceptional circumstances, including a test of whether the local authority has made as "much use as possible of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land" and, through strategic policies, "optimises the density of development" in existing built-up areas.

Elsewhere, the final document is largely unchanged from the draft in outlining exceptions to the prohibition on allowing "inappropriate" new buildings within the green belt. While planning authorities should consider the construction of new buildings in the green belt as "inappropriate", the new framework now countenances such exceptions as affordable housing "for local community needs" set out in development plans or development on brownfield land that does "not cause substantial harm to the openness of the green belt".

Paragraph 172 says national parks, the Broads and areas of outstanding natural beauty have been granted the "highest status of protection", in which "great weight" should be given to conserving and enhancing their landscape and scenic beauty. The scale and extent of development within these areas should be limited and planning permission for major development should be refused other than in exceptional circumstances, it states.

Forthcoming guidance

In its consultation response document, the government says it will "consider" the need for guidance on securing compensatory improvements to remaining green belt where other areas are removed from it.

Implications for the sector

The Campaign to Protect Rural England praised the government for "maintaining green belt protections" and said it welcomes the "improved definition" of exceptional circumstances for releasing land from green belts.

Jason Lowes, partner in the planning team at property and planning consultancy Rapleys, noted that the final NPPF is almost identically worded to the draft in that it allows for residential development that contributes to local affordable housing on brownfield green belt sites, as long as it doesn’t cause substantial harm. "This is a sensible move, particularly given that much green belt land isn’t actually green," he said. "Time will tell, but this could in fact be one of the biggest green belt shake-ups in many years."

Giorgio Wetzl, policy researcher at Lichfields, said: "While it might appear to be a more stringent requirement, paragraph 137 specifies that, to justify the existence of exceptional circumstances, local planning authorities should be able to demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting identified need for development. This might seem like a minor change, but it could give more flexibility and a clearer path for councils considering releasing green belt in exceptional circumstances."

To view all the articles in this series click here

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