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More than a quarter of a million houses now planned for Green Belt land

25 April 2016

More than a quarter of a million houses now planned for Green Belt land Photo: Graeme Churchard/

Ever-increasing numbers undermine Government claims that it truly wants to protect the Green Belt

Research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), published today, shows that 275,000 houses are now planned for England’s Green Belt, an increase of 50,000 on last year and nearly 200,000 more than when the Government introduced its planning reforms back in March 2012 [1].

Compiled from draft and adopted local plans, the research is the latest finding to challenge the Government’s commitment to the Green Belt. Only last year Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the protection of the ‘precious’ Green Belt was ‘paramount’, reiterating the commitment made in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto [2].

Yet last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark decided that 1,500 new homes should be built on Green Belt between Gloucester and Cheltenham in one of the biggest developments on Green Belt for a decade [3]. This followed proposals in the Government’s planning policy consultation to release small sites in the Green Belt for ‘starter homes’ [4]. A Government-appointed body, the ‘Local Plans Expert Group’, has also encouraged Green Belt reviews [5].

CPRE’s Green Belt under siege report illustrates that Green Belt boundaries are being changed to accommodate housing at the fastest rate for two decades [6]. In the year to 2015, 11 local authorities finalised boundary changes to accommodate development. The 275,000 houses now planned are an increase of 25% on 2015, and almost double the 147,000 houses outlined for Green Belt in Labour’s 2009 regional plans. There is particular pressure in the Metropolitan and West Midlands Green Belt. 

Green Belt policy is gradually being weakened through loopholes in planning guidance. Under pressure from Government to set and meet high housing targets, councils are releasing Green Belt for new development through a misappropriated ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause. At least three local authorities – Bradford, Durham and Northumberland – have claimed that economic growth justifies an ‘exceptional’ change to the Green Belt.

Green Belt designation was formally introduced in 1955 to prevent urban sprawl [7]. Last year a poll showed widespread support for the Green Belt, with 64% of the public supporting its protection [8].

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments:

“Councils are increasingly eroding the Green Belt to meet unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets. The Government is proposing to encourage further development in the Green Belt. Our Green Belt is invaluable in preventing urban sprawl and providing the countryside next door for 30 million people.

“We need stronger protection for the Green Belt, not just supportive words and empty promises. To build the affordable homes young people and families need, the Government should empower councils to prioritise the use of brownfield sites. Brownfield land is a self-renewing resource that can provide at least 1 million new homes.” [9]


Notes to editors

[1] CPRE’s Green Belt under siege: 2016.

Regional breakdowns:

Regions and counties Number of houses planned on Green Belt (March 2016) % increase on number of houses planned in March 2015
Cambridgeshire 2,385 27%
Metropolitan (around London) 117,208 35%
Oxfordshire 3,510 -22%
North East 11,550 44%
North West 19,024 61%
Nottinghamshire 13,800 0%
South West (including the West of England county region) 16,245 0%
West Midlands 44,170 22%
Yorkshire 46,900 15%
Total 274,792 25%

[2] See CPRE, Election special: Andrew Motion quizzes the leaders, 19 April 2015; The Daily Telegraph, ‘David Cameron: I am a countryman and I will protect the Green Belt’, 2 March 2015; The Conservative Party manifesto, 2015, p. 52.

[3] The Daily Telegraph, ‘Protected green belt could be developed after minister’s ruling’, 12 April 2016.

[4] Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Consultation on proposed changes to national planning policy, December 2015

[5] DCLG, Local Plans Expert Group: report to the Secretary of State, 16 March 2016.

[6] See CPRE, Green Belt under siege: 2016, p. 2.

[7] The history of the Green Belt campaign is prominently featured in a forthcoming book celebrating 22 Ideas that saved the English countryside (co-written by former CPRE Chairman Peter Waine and published by Frances Lincoln on 2 June 2016). The survival expert Ray Mears introduces the chapter on Green Belts by saying that the idea “has proved to be one of the most successful acts in the history of conservation”. 

Ray Mears continues: “These buffers are maturing into internationally important habitats, often richly diverse in species. They create healthier air, and make our towns and cities happier, more relaxing places to live. If anything, we should be trying to extend the Green Belt.”

Organisations such as UN Habitat have argued that unhindered urban sprawl causes economic and social dislocation: Urban sprawl - Europe’s ignored environmental challenge, European Environment Agency, 24 November 2006; Urban trends: urban sprawl now a global problem, UN Habitat press release, 18 March 2010.

[8] An Ipsos MORI poll to mark the 60th anniversary of the Green Belt found that 64% of respondents believe that the Green Belt should be protected: CPRE, 60th anniversary poll shows clear support for Green Belt, August 2015.

[9] CPRE, From wasted space to living spaces, November 2014.

If you would like to talk to author Paul Miner about the report in more detail then please contact Benjamin Halfpenny on 020 7981 2819 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Sir Andrew Motion, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.

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