Our cities and towns are growing, gradually the countryside is reduced and tamed by urban sprawl. But this is not a new problem, and planners in the United Kingdom have long used policies to try to curtail and contain the growing urbanisation. Designating green belts is one method planners have used. Green Belt is a term used to describe an area around a city or urban area which should not be built on, but should instead be kept open for farming, woodland, or outdoor leisure pursuits.
The necessity of curtailing urban sprawl was recognised for many years by groups advocating for the protection of the countryside, and the ‘garden city’ movement, who recognised that cities must include the provision of green spaces accessible by their inhabitants. It was not until 1935, however, that seeds were planted for the implementation of a green belt. The Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed to create a green belt, or ‘girdle’ of green, open, recreational space around the city. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly, however, and it was another fourteen years before the Metropolitan Green Belt was properly defined and mapped by all of the local authorities involved.
In 1947, legislation was put in place allowing Local Authorities outside London to include proposals for green belts in their new development plans. They were encouraged to do so in the historic Circular 42/55 which laid out details of green belt policy.
– Green belt policy today:
Today, around 13% of England is designated at green belt. Development is very strictly circumscribed within those areas and is covered by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In Northern Ireland, 16% of the land is greenbelt, and there is one greenbelt in Wales, between Cardiff and Newport. In Scotland there are 10 greenbelts at present, with plans for several more. The Scottish Government policy is slightly different to that of the Westminster Government, in that in Scotland, it is recognised that some types of development within green belt areas is desirable. For example, creation of community woodlands, re-use of derelict farm buildings, or re-purposing of green space for market gardening. They are very focussed not just on making and retaining these open green spaces, but also emphasize the need to maintain and enhance biodiversity within these areas.
– Benefits of Green Belt:
It is clear that cities require to be halted in their inexorable outward spread, and green belts can help with this problem. They can also stop two distinct towns from becoming one, and losing their distinct identities. They can help to maintain the setting and character of historic towns, and also assist struggling city centres, since developers must look to brown field and run-down urban sites rather than spreading outwards into green-field development. Arguably most importantly, they provide much needed green space and access to nature for city dwellers.
– Future Development:
It has been argued that green belt policy is a little out of date, and can be too proscriptive for the modern world, especially as regards ecological development. Some argue that our green space policy will have to improve to encompass whole cities, and that greenbelts will have to be better managed and of better ecological diversity as our population continues to grow.
Whatever happens, it is clear that our green belts are being stretched as the big bellies of the cities become full to bursting point. It will be fascinating to see what happens with city planning and greenspace in the future.