Land Development in the Greenbelt

By: DietrichElliot

Land use planning in the UK looks set to be hotly debated as the Government faces a stark reality painted by surveyors trade body, writes Alex Way.

Whether or not you agree with the proposition that professional trade bodies exist to serve, rather than regulate their members, some trade bodies more than others command respect by dint of their long establishment and naturally 'conservative' outlook. In this sense, 'conservative ' pertains not to political affiliation, but to a general predisposition to 'preserving the current, and resisting change'.

As such, when a body as august as The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICs) points-out that for the Government to deliver its housing target, some sustainable UK land sites in the Greenbelt should be awarded residential land planning permission, the notion of Greenbelt review is lent real credence. If nothing else, it evidences that land development in parts of the Greenbelt is not merely the fantasy of rapacious property development firms driven by dreams of avarice, but in fact a legitimate - indeed an important - discussion to raise.

Currently, potential development land in Greenbelts can only gain a land planning award if the land developers can demonstrate 'special circumstances' ie that the benefits of the property development outweigh the disadvantages to the area in question. There is thus a general presumption against building on English land in the Greenbelt, a convention which has been observed since the 1930s. Whilst Greenbelts are estimated to cover merely 13% of the total UK land supply, and that some Greenbelt UK land is already released for property development purposes every year, land developers have long called for a more dynamic approach to land planning applications on Greenbelt sites. This is because such sites are typically located on the fringes of densely-populated metropolitan areas (where demand for housing is obviously very high), and that in many cases the sites do not perform a 'material function' (ie their Greenbelt status is more a historical legacy than a modern day UK land planning policy). Indeed, land developers have long argued that in many cases they are more able to create sustainble communities on development land sites in Greenbelts than in other - possibly more remote - areas, because there is often existing local infrastructure close to Greenbelt UK land sites.

RICs appears to concur, at least partially, with these land development firms. Whilst the trade body posits that there are long-term drawbacks to the excessive relaxation of land development restrictions in Greenbelts, it contends that some relaxation may be necessary in areas of high housing demand. Moreover, current Greenbelt development restrictions on UK land are excessive and could act as a barrier to the building of affordable homes and the creation of sustainable communities. RICs echoes the concerns of others that, in many places, there is very unlikely to be sufficient Brownfield UK land to deliver local housing quotas. And even where there is an adequate supply of Brownfield UK land, the extra costs (which are usually borne by land development firms) associated with this type of development land - soil remediation, lack of infrastructure etc - may lead to their under-utilisation.

However, RICs adds caveats to its position, most notably that land development firms proposing residential property development on UK land in the Greenbelt must strive for the highest standards of design, energy efficiency and sustainability (especially with respect to transport links). Fear of uncontained 'urban sprawl' (the original reason for the introduction of Greenbelts on UK land in the 1930s) remains a concern for RICs, but if high standards are adhered to regarding the foregoing (design, energy efficiency etc), then UK land in the Greenbelt could reasonably be used for residential property development purposes. Moreover, RICs expresses concerns that draconian Greenbelt land planning restrictions on UK land can act as disincentives to businesses relocating to areas where jobs are required, so the issue is not merely about delivering the Government's housing target.

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