Greenbelt lands are thought to be sacrosanct in resisting development. But that’s not the absolute rule – the NPPF encourages vitalization of rural areas.
The growing UK population brings up much debate over development in greenbelt lands. This is not just about adding residential and commercial tracts – even a proposed new poultry farm near Bath met council resistance in 2013.
In that particular planning consent application, the proposed agricultural-purpose enterprise and structures were deemed likely to “result in an unacceptable degree of harm to the landscape and to the openness of the Green Belt… the dwelling constitutes inappropriate development,” said a report in the Bath Chronicle.
And yet, there is growing support by voices in the government and the general population saying that the greenbelt is not sacred and that some development will be necessary to accommodate a growing UK population.
The current situation is the worst housing crisis since the post-War period, placing families stacked two or more generations into flats and bungalows, as homebuilders have not found economic incentive to build since the 2008 financial crisis. The country is focused on finding solutions, some of which can come from the build-rural recommendations of the National Planning Policy Framework (published March 2012). Those recommendations include the following:
• Planning policies should support economic growth in rural areas in order to create jobs and prosperity by taking a positive approach to sustainable new development.
• Support the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business and enterprise in rural areas, both through conversion of existing buildings and well designed new buildings.
• Promote the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses.
• Support sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments that benefit businesses in rural areas, communities and visitors, and which respect the character of the countryside.
• In rural areas, exercising the duty to cooperate with neighboring authorities, local planning authorities should be responsive to local circumstances and plan housing development to reflect local needs, particularly for affordable housing, including through rural exception sites where appropriate.
• Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.
• Planning policies and decisions should address the connections between people and places and the integration of new development into the natural, built and historic environment.
In an earlier document, “Planning Policy Statement 7: Sustainable Development in Rural Areas,” by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Crown Copyright 2004), these points were also made:
• Focus most development in, or next to, existing towns and villages.
• Discourage the development of “greenfield” land, but, where such land must be used, ensure it isn’t used wastefully.
• Promoting a range of uses to maximise the potential benefits of the countryside fringing urban areas.
What should be clear is that development in greenbelt and agricultural areas is far from discouraged. Instead, national planners prefer that it be done consciously.
Strategic land investors are looking at brownfield as well as greenfield land as opportunities to serve the critical housing needs of the country. Generally speaking, the residential and commercial building they foster follows the presence of employment in a local economy, where having the right kinds of workers living nearby the business itself will do better.
Investors looking for capital growth and who consider such areas for development are advised to work with land specialists who understand the processes and priorities of local planning authorities. For the new investor, participation in such schemes needs independent review by a qualified financial advisor.