Green Belt – Spatial or Visual

Decoration Decoration

Visual impact now takes priority over spatial designation within Green Belt Assessments

Planner Insight
Policy & Legislation
Author Mike Cole
Decoration Decoration

On the 22nd July 2019, the Government published Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on the role of the Green Belt in the planning system. This guidance remains up to date and supports the latest version of the National Planning Policy Framework 2021 (NPPF).

The Green Belt section of the PPG addresses three principal questions:

  • What factors can be taken into account when considering the potential impact of development on the openness of the Green Belt?
  • How might plans set out ways in which the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset by compensatory improvements?
  • How can the strategic policy-making authority ensure that compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of the Green Belt will be secured?

The advice contained within the PPG relates to both the decision making and plan-making process. Of particular relevance to the determination of applications is that the PPG sets out that the openness is capable of having both spatial and visual aspects. Simply put, the visual impact of the proposal will be relevant, as would its volume.

The duration of the development and its remediability, taking into account any provisions to return the land to its original state or to an equivalent (or improved) state of openness, is also taken into account. This has created opportunities for certain types of temporary development to be more favourably considered than had previously been the case.

On the flipside the degree of activity likely to be produced, such as the traffic generation of a proposal, is a material consideration, which is required to be assessed on major projects of all types, even those that would otherwise be deemed to be appropriate development in the Green Belt.

Where it has been demonstrated that it is necessary to release Green Belt land for development, the PPG states that strategic policy-making authorities should set out policies for compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of the remaining Green Belt land. This begs the question of whether improving the quality of the Green Belt can indeed override any impact on its openness. This can, in some instances, ease the release of Green Belt land for further housing, particularly that which involves previously developed land.

Compensatory improvements include, among other things, new or enhanced green infrastructure, woodland planting, landscape and visual enhancements (beyond those needed to mitigate the immediate impacts of the proposal), improvements to biodiversity, habitat connectivity, new or enhanced walking and cycle routes, and improved access to new, enhanced or existing recreational and playing field provision. There will, inevitably, be much debate over the implications for land ownership, the amount of land required and its suitability.

Consideration will also need to be given to how these improvements will be secured. Typically this is via the use of conditions, section 106 obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

The main message to take away is that there is a definitive shift in the way in which development in the Green Belt is assessed. It is no longer simply a spatial designation, visual impact now has greater prominence. The implications of this for specific sites can be considered on a case by case basis.

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