History of Green Belt in the UK

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Green belt policy is nothing new. In fact, restriction of building around cities can be traced back to the ancient times although green belts were proposed for different reasons back then. The first green belt around London, for instance, ordered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 foresaw a three-mile wide belt in order to stop the spread of plague. However, it was possible to receive a permission for a new building and the belt around London in the 16th century never truly functioned as such.

The idea of a green belt in the UK in the true meaning of the word dates to the 1930’s when the Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed the Metropolitan Green Belt around London. However, it was not until 1947 when the Town and Country Planning Act allowed the local authorities to include green belts in their town plans, while the first green belts were not designated until the 1950’s.

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The implementation of green belt policy in the UK is a result of a continuous pressure on the local authorities by various groups and movements such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) over the last 50 years. Today, more than 1.6 million hectares are designated as green belt land in England which means that green belts in England cover about 13 percent of the total land area. Green belt land covers even higher percentage of total area in Northern Ireland – 16 percent despite the fact that only 226.6 hectares are designated as green belt land. Scotland has six green belts covering about 156 hectares or 2 percent of its total area, while Wales has only one green belt.

Green belt policy in the UK has shown to be highly effective in halting the urban sprawl and improving the quality of life for both rural and urban population. However, the CPRE warns on the so-called developmental threats to green belt policy and emphasizes the importance of protecting the existing green belt areas in their boundaries. The UK government said that it has no intention of changing the boundaries of green belts but the CPRE says that developmental plans and talks about replacing the “lost“ green belt areas elsewhere are clearly revealing that the current green belt policy is under threat.

Some areas that are designated as green belt land may have lesser value in environmental sense, however, any dramatic changes of the existing green belt policy could have unforeseen consequences. The CPRE therefore calls for creation of new green belt areas rather than making any changes in the current system in favour of new development projects.