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Unveiling the Benefits of Green Belt Development

Planning | Blog

As a passionate advocate for sustainable housing solutions, we find ourselves amidst a landscape where the debate over brownfield versus Green Belt development rages on. It’s a discourse filled with complexities, nuances, and, at times, political undercurrents that dictate the direction of our urban planning initiatives.

Where did they come from?

Green Belt policies originated in the early 20th century to prevent urban sprawl and protect rural areas, with the goal of restricting urban growth, preserve agricultural land, and maintain the character of rural communities.

Brownfield development became a focus later, with a goal to rejuvenate these areas, reduce neglect and make efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Over time, both policies have evolved, adapting to changing urban dynamics, housing needs, and environmental considerations.

What is brownfield development?

Brownfield development, undoubtedly, stands as a vital player in our goal to address housing shortages. It efficiently utilises land that might otherwise lay empty or be underutilised/redundant, offering a glimmer of hope for cities like London, Birmingham, or Manchester struggling with housing provision challenges.

Despite its merits, it’s clear that brownfield development alone cannot single-handedly resolve our housing crisis. Many brownfield sites are contaminated and require extensive remediation, which can be costly and time-consuming. Additionally, these sites are often situated in densely populated areas, where the capacity of existing infrastructure such as roads, schools, and healthcare facilities are already stretched thin. There is also the need to consider the existing context and how new proposals might negatively effect this.

What is Green Belt development?

Enter the Green Belt development – a concept often shrouded in controversy, particularly in the face of governmental dismissal of policy changes. It is a narrative perpetuated for political expediency, frustratingly so for those of us entrenched in the planning industry. But why has this stance taken such a stronghold in public consciousness?

With each new home, the strain on public services becomes palpable. From healthcare to infrastructure, the pressure mounts, leaving local authorities struggling to keep pace with demand. Brownfield development, while offering much-needed housing, often falls short in addressing these infrastructure needs, relying instead on existing resources or part funding piecemeal improvements to them which can be difficult to implement.

In contrast, Green Belt development presents a unique opportunity for thoughtful planning, unencumbered by the restrictions typical in brownfield projects. It can positively deliver infrastructure provisions and services that benefit areas well beyond the site itself – without strategic scale development to fund such projects, infrastructure improvements will need to rely on funding from elsewhere.

Infrastructure and community benefits

One of the significant advantages of Green Belt development is the potential for integrating open spaces, parks, and community amenities into the design. This holistic planning can enhance the quality of life for residents and foster vibrant, sustainable communities. Furthermore, large-scale Green Belt projects can generate funding for essential infrastructure improvements, which might not be feasible through brownfield developments alone.

For example, the Cambridge’s Eddington development, integrates sustainable housing with ample green spaces, community facilities, and infrastructure improvements, demonstrating how Green Belt projects can create balanced, sustainable communities.

Economic and environmental challenges

Green Belt development can be more cost-effective as it allows for comprehensive, large-scale design from the outset. This approach can reduce long-term costs and attract higher investment due to the appeal of new, well-planned communities.

However, they can pose environmental challenges, such as potential loss of natural habitats, biodiversity, and open spaces. Although, with thoughtful planning, these developments can incorporate green spaces, parks, and conservation areas, promoting sustainability.

Brownfield redevelopment often requires significant investment for land remediation and infrastructure upgrades. However, these projects can boost local economies by increasing property values, attracting businesses, and creating jobs. Government grants and incentives can play a crucial role in financing these projects. While environmentally beneficial by reusing land, often involves remediating contamination, which can be costly and technically challenging but results in cleaner, safer urban areas.

Both development types can benefit from sustainable practices, such as green building technologies, renewable energy integration, and eco-friendly infrastructure.

A solution to the housing crisis – balancing brownfield and Green Belt development

Part of the solution to the housing crisis lies in our ability to strike a balance between brownfield and Green Belt development. Failure to do so not only limits urban expansion but also exacerbates affordability issues within green belt areas.

Empowering local councils and planners to leverage both types of development is crucial. By doing so, we can create a diverse range of housing options that accommodate various needs and preferences, ensuring that communities can grow and thrive. Strategic planning that incorporates both brownfield and Green Belt sites can also help address affordability issues, making housing more accessible to a broader population.

Additionally, policy reforms could further support balanced development The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) governs how Green Belt land is to be established, managed and amended. Recent changes to the NPPF in December 2023 introduced greater flexibility for local authorities in assessing local housing need and confirmed that local authorities are not required to review and alter Green Belt boundaries during the plan making process, even if they cannot meet the housing need. This is considered by many to be a backward step in the strategic planning of homes the country so desperately needs. At the very least, local authorities should be encouraged to review the Green Belt, to ensure all areas of it continue to perform against the five purposes outline within the NPPF. Where it doesn’t it is clearly unsuitable Green Belt land but eminently suitable housing land.

However, by streamlining the approval process for brownfield projects and offering more incentives for sustainable Green Belt development, housing provisions could be accelerated. Having clear guidelines and robust environmental assessments is crucial to ensure that both development types meet sustainability goals.

Strategic planning for the future

The future of urban development lies in integrating innovative planning and design approaches. Technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Building Information Modelling (BIM) can enhance planning efficiency and accuracy.

With trends such as mixed-use developments, smart cities, and resilient infrastructure gaining traction, these approaches aim to create adaptable, sustainable urban environments. Anticipating future housing demand, especially in growing urban areas, remains essential for strategic planning.


As we grapple with the complexities of our housing crisis, it is evident that both brownfield and Green Belt development have roles to play in shaping our sustainable future. However, it’s incumbent upon us to challenge long held narratives, to advocate for sensible development opportunities, and to pave the way for a future where housing meets the needs of all. Only then can we truly chart a course towards a more equitable and prosperous tomorrow.

We will continue to monitor the Green Belt policy position following the general election.

Published: 24th May 2024
Area: Planning

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Marrons is a multi-service development consultancy backed by the experience of working for local authorities, extensive market intel and connections across the industry - from planning offices and private landowners to housebuilders and retailers.

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