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The Housing Supply Dilemma and building on the Green Belt

There has been a considerable amount of debate recently on whether the protection given to the Green Belt (GB) around urban areas should be lessened to allow additional housing to be built there.

The requirement on Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to demonstrate in their assessing of housing planning applications that they have a five-year housing supply available (which many cannot) puts them (and Central Government) under pressure to explore possibilities of allowing building on previously undeveloped green-field sites among which are areas within the existing GB.

The reasons behind having GBs are inarguably attractive in preventing urban spread and preserving green areas close to populations living in town and cities. However, as can be seen almost daily in political debate and news programmes there is an existing and increasing need for more housing to be provided. Land being a finite resource the question therefore is where can this additional housing be provided?

Part of the answer lies in increasing efforts to identify suitable previously developed brown field sites and allowing conversion of other existing uses to residential use both of which have been acted on through various measures by Central Government and Local Government.

However, it is becoming more apparent that no matter what measures are taken in these areas they simply will not provide enough scope for the housing needed hence the increasing scrutiny by policy makers of GB protections.

Part of the difficulty in this respect it could be argued is in the fact that the parameters of existing GB areas were determined in times when there was much less need for housing on the scale needed now and thus the statutory protection for such areas should be revisited to accommodate current requirements.

Arising out of the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012, the presumption in favour of “sustainable development” has generally improved the likelihood of development being permitted. LPAs, therefore, need to apply sound planning reasons including a 5 year housing supply in refusing a planning application for housing otherwise they are at risk in having the refusal overturned on appeal. This presumption, however, continues to be the opposite in respect of GBs where generally development is prohibited unless “very special circumstances” apply and as shown consistently in planning appeals it is extremely difficult to demonstrate those “very special circumstances” thus reinforcing the strict protection which exists in any case under statute.

Solutions to the dilemma range from views that the GB protection is completely outdated and should be abolished altogether to various intermediate options that GB designation is removed from intensive agricultural land and/or removing restrictions from non-scenic land close to railway stations.

The debate continues and no doubt will become more heated in the future as the availability reduces of affordable homes for those seeking them.

For advice on planning matters please contact Kevin Breslin, Consultant Planning Solicitor at Setfords Solicitors.