Development in the green belt

Melissa Magee, company director and architect at Carless + Adams, discusses the sensitive issue of building on the green belt and how this sensitivity affects planning permission for new care homes, and explains why action is needed now to avoid greater problems in the future

The UK is recognised worldwide for its environmental and geographical composition and much of this can be accredited to its coastline, green belt, and heritage areas. Think Wordsworth in the Lakes, Churchill in Kent, Hepworth in Yorkshire. The impact and presence that our land gives is powerful, so the use of these spaces is an ethical decision, not just a necessity. Similar to the coastline, once the green belt is developed it cannot be returned, so consideration to its use and maintenance for future generations is of paramount importance. Many residents of the UK that do not immediately neighbour green belts may not recognise immediately their importance; however, appreciation must be given for the natural environment and existing historic and architectural forms and styles of the areas.

Development on the green belt is often negatively highlighted in the press, accompanied by emotion-stirring headlines. Unfortunately, such articles often miss detailed, critical analysis about such a development approval. We live in a country with over 67 million people and housing is a constant, powerful, and divisive issue. Almost 19 per cent of the UK population is over 65 years old, and this number is growing as our population ages. Much of the planning development and approval is focused on new housing developments due to the finances involved, but as our population ages this focus needs to shift towards retirement communities, care, and dementia care home provision. The debate is to whether the green belt is the appropriate area to use. The stereotypical geographical spread of those 65+ has been towards the south coast, south west, or west Somerset. There is a slight turn in the tide, however, as these areas are growing in popularity, and as the population numbers in these regions increase, these elderly communities are longing for new areas, and so the cycle continues. 

The government states that the ‘fundamental aim’ of the green belt is ‘to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open’ around urban areas. England had around 16,384 km2 (or 6,326 square miles) of green belt land at the end of March 2023, covering 12.6 per cent of England’s land area. The green belt is clustered around 15 urban cores; the largest are London, Merseyside and Greater Manchester, and South and West Yorkshire (including Sheffield, Leeds, and Bradford).

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