Is it OK to build on Green Belt land?

In which the Wartime Housewife draws your attention to GASP, a pressure group in Buckinghamshire, and offers explanation and discussion about what Green Belt and Brown Field sites really are.
Recently, Sister the Second announced that she had been on a Demonstration.  Now, I spent large chunks of my late-teens to mid-twenties marching, demonstrating, campaigning and generally sounding off about a variety of political and social issues, but Sister the Second has never had an obvious militant tendency.  I beat her over the head with a placard and demanded to know what it was about.

The owners of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps Rugby Clubs want to leave Adams Park (their current ground) and build a new stadium development. Wycombe Air Park is their preferred site. This is Green Belt land next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Wycombe District Council is proposing to support and part-fund the project through substantial ‘enabling development’ i.e. selling off land owned by WDC for housing development – possibly 2000 homes. The project is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.

Group Against The Stadium Proposals (GASP) was officially formed on Monday 15th November 2010 when concerned representatives of independent groups representing some 13,000 residents came together to unite against the stadium proposals by Wycombe District Council and private enterprise. Groups include parish councils, residents’ associations, sports clubs and conservation bodies from both the local and wider area.

Whilst each group has their own individual concerns, many are shared by all groups, including loss of countryside in the Green Belt, concerns about access to and from the stadium and housing development.  To learn more about their campaign, log on to

What does Green Belt actually mean?

A Green Belt is an allotted space of land that is held in reserve for an area of public open space and for recreational purposes. Greenbelt land is normally undeveloped or sparsely populated land, which has has been set aside to enclose developments, prevent towns from merging and provide open space.

The beginning of the Green Belt was in 1935 and was established by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee. It was not until 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act allowed Green Belts to be included in their development plans and it was not until 1955 that the whole idea was beginning to be used throughout the UK.

There are a few set purposes for these greenbelt areas which include preventing large areas from getting larger and keeping them in one area, to keep neighboring towns from growing together, to protect the countryside from development, to preserve the character and history of smaller towns, and to help with the rebirth of derelict areas within the urban area.

Green Belt map of England

13% of England is Green Belt, the largest being the London Green Belt, at about 486,000 hectares. The smallest Green Belt is the Burton-Swadlincote Green Belt at just 700 hectares. There are around 14 Green Belts throughout England.

Green Belts were necessary because London and other major cities kept on expanding, and there had to be intervention to stop the countryside being concreted overIt has been said many times that once an open space has been built, on it will almost certainly be lost forever – no-one is ever going to look at a housing estate and say “Let’s knock this down – we could grow barley here”. 

There are five purposes for  designating Green Belt land: 

  1. Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  2. Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  3. Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land 

 There are also five threats to Green Belt land:

  1. Short term planning gain – over-riding the permanent nature of Green Belts by shifting the boundaries enabling towns to expand.  The 2005 draft Milton Keynes and South Midlands Plan produced for the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) talks of shifting the Green Belt to enable existing towns to expand.
  2. Housing pressures.  For example, in the South East of England (Kent, Surrey, Sussex etc) the government is asking for 500,000 more houses.
  3. London overspill.  People who currently live and work in London and are finding it too expensive and too crowded to live in London which is reducing their quality of life.  As a result, they are moving out of London to live in surrounding towns.  This is increasing the pressures for more housing in the Home Counties
  4. It is easier and cheaper to build on green field sites because brown field sites can be expensive to decontaminate.  Technically, developers have to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to build on Green Belt.
  5. Inappropriate development which reduces the openness of Green Belt land.  For examples, click here for appeals against refusal of permission to develop on Green Belt land

Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 there has been a net decrease of 80 hectares when compared with the latest 2008/09 estimates. This is due to two authorities who adopted new plans which resulted in a real net decrease in the area of Green Belt.  Since these statistics were first compiled in 1997, there has been an increase in the area of Green Belt, but this is because a huge chunk of the New Forest National Park was redesignated as Green Belt in 2005.

So what is a Brown Field site?

A Brown Field site

Brown Field land development is previously developed land that may or may not have been contaminated. Today, you will find literally thousands of Brown Field sites that were previously used for industrial use. Because of this, these sites potentially present dramatic risks to people’s health, along with the environment.

With the problem of these sites being so significant, the UK government has stepped in, initiating programs to help redevelop Brown Field sites, calling these cleaned up areas Green Field sites. The program defined by the government is to take up to 60% of Brown Field sites and use them for new housing developments. The goal is to eliminate stress on green belt areas of the country.

Land that has not had industrial activity on it does not usually have contamination issues and its use is dependent on the regional councils having the will to use it and the impetus to encourage and incentivise developers to move into these areas.

One of the problems with Brown Field land development is that the public are much better informed and understandably wary about the potential liabilities associated with building a new house on previously industrial land.

Brown Field land development could be successful if waste and chemical risk is removed, making the land stable. Although new processes are being reviewed, the current steps involve redevelopment through a planning process for both environmental and economic relief and growth. This must include stringent surveys to ascertain the history of the land, groundwater testing, subsurface soil testing, and so on.

Landfill sites are going to become a huge problem in the future because it is so hard to decontaminate the site to use the land for anything useful.  Have a look at this previous post for more information.

Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are happy for our green spaces to be slowly but surely eroded.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  No going back.  No reclaiming land for agriculture or farming, no knocking down of stadiums to build a nature reserve or a green space to stop us all going bonkers.  And no more back-handers for corrupt planning officials.  Now there’s a thought….


Filed under Community and shopping, Environment, Politics, Science and Technology

9 responses to “Is it OK to build on Green Belt land?

  1. Interesting that you should just post this after I just read this article in The Guardian:

    • wartimehousewife

      How very very interesting, Columnist. I do understand the “it’s going to happen anyway so let’s make the best of it and do it properly” mentality but this does seem very odd indeed. It would be interesting to know what has been said at planning meetings.

  2. Morag

    Thanks for the diagram, WH. I had never realised that the term Green Belt did literally mean a belt of green around towns and cities.

    You’re right about land not going back to its original purpose once it has been built on – there’s a plot of land close to us which had previously been orchards. Then it was occupied by a frozen food company, who gradually added massive overnight generators for their lorries to keep refridgerated overnight. The generators caused a constant background hum – we could hear it, but were sufficiently far away not to be (too!) bothered by it. What it must have been like for the cottages next door, I have no idea.

    Anyway, the residents complained and complained, and in the end the company decided it couldn’t be bothered with the aggro and sold up … to a development company. Now, there is a small attractive development of homes on the site – and of course the residents are now complaining about that as well! (It’s a bit of a hobby, NIMBYism, round here, it seems). I keep wanting to point out, the orchards aren’t coming back.

    On the subject of much needed homes, I’m not sure the Government has done its maths very well. Yes, here in the southeast, there may be a demand for 500,000 new homes (I thought it was 250,000?!), but they will be for single adults mostly, so what’s the point in building stuff that’s aimed at families? Once a couple have divorced, their separate incomes don’t generally provide for 2 households to live at the same level as when they were married.

    • wartimehousewife

      You make a very good point, Morag. There has to be much more focus on exactly who wants what type of house. There was a huge housing estate built near Peterborough a few years ago to cope with London overspill but most of those people didn’t want to move there because it was too ‘rural’.

  3. Thankyou for pointing all this out. Action groups really have put a stop to some unspeakable developments- one has only to think of the hopefully eradicated plan to turn a hugh pastoral section of south east Leicestershire into an ‘eco’ town. That was going to line the pockets of the ‘caring, sharing Co-Op’. But whilst corrupt planning officials taking backhanders are merely suspended until it blows over we can expect a whole lot of heavy weather ahead.

    • wartimehousewife

      This whole eco bandwagon is getting completely out of hand, Peter. As you know, I am an unspeakable old hippy in many respects but ‘The Environment’ mustn’t be used as a blackmail phrase when people can’t get their own way. To challenge current eco-thinking is often comparable to admitting to being a kiddy-fiddler – “What do you mean you’re not convinced about the human-driven acceleration of global warming? Do you WANT all the polar bears to have to live in Leicestershire because the ice caps have melted and then die horribly because they can’t buy enough organic farmed salmon ?!!!!”
      Don’t worry, they’re immigrants, they’ll get a council house…..
      Where did that Daily Mail reader come from?

  4. The other type of land designated as ‘brownfield’ (by the Labour government) is airfields. This means a threat to a shrinking resource for those who fly for recreation. There are small airfields dotted around the country as a legacy of the war, and they are used by gliding clubs, light aircraft and vintage aircraft enthusiasts and those who fly for fun, but they are threatened by rapacious developers and also by those who move to the countryside having not done their homework and expect it to be completely silent. Wycombe Air Park, threatened by the council’s mad scheme to build a stadium for two loss-making teams, is home to Booker Gliding Club, established since 1965. The council’s only comment about the loss of gliding is that it would be a ‘disbenefit’. Booker GC is a member of the GASP coalition.

    • wartimehousewife

      Welcome Jane and thank you for that further information. There is a further essay to be written about people who move to or visit the countryside assuming it be some sort of rural theme park. Green spaces must not be seen as comparable to having a 50″ flat screen – desirable but not wholly necessary. Anyway, the council should be put in the stocks for using made up words like ‘disbenefit’!

  5. Sister the Second

    WE WON !!!!! I am very happy to report that on Monday, with the help of GASP, Wycombe District Council came to the only sensible decision available and voted to scrap the proposals to build a stadium, 506 houses and a sports village on Green Belt land. Apart from the fact that there was not an exceptional case identified for defiling our countryside, the business case did not stack up. Our airfield is now safe again, along with 240 acres of precious Green Belt.

    Unfortunately this now means that, according to Steve Hayes (the owner of Wycombe Wanderers and Wasps), Wasps will now have to leave the area and find a new home ground. As a Wasps supporter, I will be sorry to see them go but actually the Green Belt is more important than a sports team.

    Having spent the last year fighting these proposals, what am I going to do now ???

    This victory proves that democracy and public opinion can win and we must never think that something is “a done deal” or that we can do nothing about projects that adversely affect our lives and the environment. It is imperative that we all protect the Green Belt, AONBs and woodlands throughout our beautiful country. There are plenty of brown field and derelict sites for new houses to be built on without destroying the countryside. Businesses should be encouraged to improve and maintain existing buildings rather than build unnecessary new ones.

    If other readers have their local area under threat, please fight it – residents really can make a difference.

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