Lucy Wallwork LUC Comment Piece Horiz

LUCY WALLWORK, LUC | Has a track record of working for local authorities on a variety of green infrastructure strategies, as well as various other strategic planning work, including green belt assessments.


COMMENT | Making the North West’s Green Belt work harder

LUC logoGreen Belt is perhaps one of the most politically emotive constraints to development, as the travails of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework have made very clear, writes Lucy Wallwork of LUC.

Almost one quarter of Lancashire is designated as Green Belt, the bulk in the South and West of the county, areas facing significant development pressures. Mindful of the National Planning Policy Framework’s requirement to consider the sustainability consequences of channelling development beyond the Green Belt, authorities are increasingly proposing release of Green Belt land in order to meet their housing targets.

However, the NPPF also requires them to compensate for the impact of Green Belt release by improving environmental quality and accessibility of remaining Green Belt land. An important step in the process will be ensuring that both areas released for development and areas retained as Green Belt ‘work harder’ in other ways.

At its best, the Green Belt provides a range of benefits: a wildlife haven, a carbon sink, a floodwater sponge and a valued recreational asset for local communities. However, it has enormous potential to work harder in delivering a range of ‘ecosystem services’. Around two-thirds of the Green Belt nationally is in agricultural use and its intensification is a key driver in the dramatic decline in biodiversity in the UK.

Local authorities have a leading role to play in encouraging more beneficial use of the Green Belt. Many authorities across Lancashire moved to declare Climate Emergencies in 2019, and the region has been hard hit in recent years by surface water flooding.

Green hearts

One of the key ways these authorities can act on those declarations is by putting ‘green infrastructure’ at the heart of their spatial plans and policies. Increasing tree cover might be the most prominent on the political agenda, but Green Belt can be used for hosting community-supported agriculture, providing wildflower-rich habitats for pollinators, and providing active travel routes along canals or disused railway lines. LUC has been working with councils to identify potential to enhance beneficial use of Green Belt through GI studies for Greater Manchester, Oxford City and Shropshire.

But who is responsible for delivering GI? Too often, GI is the first obligation to drop off the budget as a ‘nice to have’, rather than a piece of vital infrastructure. This calls for more ‘natural capital’ thinking from both planning departments and developers – an economic concept that mobilises organisations and investors to understand how nature underpins other ‘goods’. With its Natural Capital Investment Plan, Greater Manchester has done some really valuable thinking on how to mobilise resources in this area.

Due to the national drive to meet housing targets, some release of Green Belt land will be inevitable for many authorities. In these cases, developers will have a key role to play. Sustainable drainage systems are already a requirement to make many schemes acceptable. However the introduction of mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain, with the long-awaited Environment Bill, will mean developers have to think harder about the ecosystem services their masterplans deliver. This goes beyond simply avoiding protected habitats – it requires a ‘landscape-led’ approach to masterplanning, letting the green and blue corridors dictate plans rather than the building plots.

New developments on the urban fringe can also enhance the ‘beneficial use’ of the remaining Green Belt, by ensuring that movement corridors link seamlessly into surrounding public rights of way and ecological corridors. Urban planners might also consider ways to provide green ‘fingers’ of connectivity between urban centres and the countryside beyond, akin to Copenhagen’s famous Five Finger Plan. This all means a big shift away from ‘business as usual’, but a GI-led approach to place can go beyond mere compliance to deliver more distinctive places that respond powerfully to their context, as the latest Housing Design Audit by Place Alliance, a movement campaigning for place quality, has called for.

As authorities across the UK seek to grapple with housing targets, Green Belt land will undoubtedly have a role to play. GI will need to be put at the heart of expectations for remaining and new Green Belt development sites, just as vital infrastructure such as road connections has been in the past.

Your Comments

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This just strikes me as a way of making excuses for the destruction of green belt to enable development. I live next to green belt land which is being progressively destroyed to make way for very expensive housing. Bats, owls, deer, countless wild birds and countless species of wild flowers have been eliminated in the rush for profit. The schemes for “making the green belt work harder have mostly consisted of ripping out vegetation that runs alongside canal towpaths and concreting over said towpaths to make them fit for running and cycling. There has not even been any tree planting. Please don’t fool yourself into thinking that all this “landscaping” nonsense is in some way virtuous, mother nature is the only force that can “landscape” in any way that preserves biodiversity, all the new building is driven purely by the profit motive and as such is unstoppable.

By Adrian

Green Belt policy is outdated and no longer fit for purpose when the UK needs to house a new generation of young people. The author fails to understand the complex demands on land and offers no solutions. Green Infrastructure strategies need to be aligned with housing growth aspirations, not done in isolation.

By Far too simplistic

How much appetite would there be for this if the Green Belt was only released for social housing, lowering profit margins for developers?

By Heald Green

If at first you don’t succeed then try a different angle if that fails try again because there’s gold in them thar hills.

By Anonymous

Our green belts should not just be preserved – they should be restored to wildness. It would take an act of faith as it has no romantic or economic cachet, yet the benefit to the earth would be immeasurable. This is the only way to increase biodiversity in any meaningful way.

By Janet

Eventually when all the greenbelt is taken they will have to start building upwards again. Why not do that now? We can make it work this time if it is done sensibly.

By Sylvia wild

Sylvia – have you seen the Manchester skyline lately?

By SillyGoose

What a load of tosh

God help us

By Mike

Agriculture land in the Green Belt and it’s use for food production is likely to be needed more as the UK leaves the EU.
Sustainability in many areas is key to thriving communities.

By Gordon

Rotherham council continue to steal a ridiculous amount of green belt land from future generations and are leaving brown belt areas untouched. Developers refuse to build in brown belt areas which remain demolition sites. Our brown belt areas are desperate for regeneration. However developers desire green belt areas to build houses that can sell at a higher premium. Who is incharge? We need quality social housing in Rotherham but this doesn’t seem to be a priority. I just find the whole thing confusing and have been left with little faith in our planning department.

By Amy

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