Loosening the Belt: What is Grey Belt Land and Green Belt Land?

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Joanne Perritt - Partner and Head of Commercial Property

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Loosening the Belt What is Grey Belt Land and Green Belt Land v2

The Labour Party unveiled plans to construct new homes on ‘grey belt land’ during their 2024 General Election campaign.

Our Commercial Property Solicitors explore what Labours proposed plans mean for future development as well as the purpose, difficulties and future of green belt land.

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What is grey belt land?

‘Grey belt land’ is a new term coined by the Labour Party; it is defined as a new category of green belt land regarded as “poor quality” and “ugly.”

Keir Starmer’s Labour Party says they will seek to adopt a more strategic approach to ease the current housing crisis by proposing the release of poorer-quality green belt land, such as wastelands and former car parks, to facilitate the development of more homes.

what is grey belt land

Labour's 5 Golden Rules

Labour have announced five golden rules for the development of any scheme built on green belt land:-

  1. Brownfield development must be prioritised ahead of green belt;
  2. Grey belt development will come next;
  3. Green belt development must include at least 50% affordable homes;
  4. New public services and infrastructure must be introduced when building on the green belt;
  5. Green belt development must be ‘accompanied by a plan to improve existing green spaces and create new ones accessible to local people’.
Labours 5 Golden Rules

What is the purpose of Green Belt Land?

Green belt land is a belt of open green space that usually surrounds cities and towns and is protected from certain forms of development. Land is designated as ‘green belt’ by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) by powers delegated to them by the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

As of March 2023, 12.6% of England’s land area was designated as Green Belt Land.

The government’s planning policies are contained within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which provides a framework for LPAs to determine their local plans. LPAs should consider the NPPF when determining planning applications for development and regard it as a ‘material consideration’ in their decisions.

The underlying and fundamental purpose of designating certain land as ‘green belt’ is to inhibit ‘urban sprawl’.

Urban sprawl occurs when cities and large towns develop into and encroach upon surrounding treasured countryside, which results in vital green space becoming diminished and degraded.

However, the NPPF outlines that green belt land has, in total, five main purposes:

  • As a check on the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas.
  • To avoid neighbouring towns from combining.
  • To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment.
  • To preserve historic towns, particularly their setting and special character.
  • To assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

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How difficult is it to develop on Green Belt Land?

Where land is designated as green belt, planning permission for development is harder to obtain.

The LPAs and current government guidance determine planning applications on green belt land outlines that development on the green belt is inappropriate and should only be permitted in “very special circumstances”.

In 2022, 6.8% of green belt land had been developed, with roads and other transport infrastructure accounting for over half of this figure.

what is the purpose of green belt v2

What is the future of Green Belt Land?

In 2022, only 0.3% of all green belt land was used for residential buildings.

However, under a new government, we may see an increase in this use in the future. Labour has pledged to build 1.5 million homes over the next five years.

Whilst Labour suggests that brownfield sites should still be approached first for housing development opportunities, loosening green belt protections and the constraints imposed on development could facilitate greater housing delivery and may assist in resolving the current housing crisis.

Accordingly, green belt land may become more desirable to developers wishing to seize the opportunity to develop affordable housing on ‘grey belt’ land.

Critics of the proposal point out that it could potentially encourage landowners to neglect undeveloped land in the hope that it will later become designated a grey belt.

This could then mean the land is more likely to be granted planning permission for development that would otherwise not have been possible.

The proposals have generally been met with a tentative welcome, with most acknowledging that something needs to be done to address the growing housing shortage crisis.

It remains to be seen how the proposals will translate into concrete (no pun intended) policy change under a future Labour Government.

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We act for both landowners and developers and work with them to ensure that their interests are fully protected throughout the life cycle of a development project.

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Joanne Perritt's profile picture

Joanne Perritt

Partner and Head of Commercial Property

Joanne has over 20 years of experience acting as a Commercial Property solicitor. Joanne has specialist expertise in commercial property matters, including acquisitions and disposals of business premises, commercial leases (acting for both landlord and tenant) and secured lending.

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