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Green Belt vs Greenfield Land - what's the difference?

There is a lot of confusion around Green Belt land and Greenfield land, and the two are often used synonymously.

This Insight seeks to explain what these types of land are and the differences which exist between them.

Brownfield Land

In order to discuss Greenfield land, we must field think of Brownfield land. Brownfield land is essentially "previously developed land" - a planning term for land which has already been built on or is in the curtilage of developed land.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the overarching policies for England and this provides a useful definition of previously developed land which we've included below:

Previously developed land: Land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated fixed surface infrastructure. This excludes: land that is or was last occupied by agricultural or forestry buildings; land that has been developed for minerals extraction or waste disposal by landfill, where provision for restoration has been made through development management procedures; land in built-up areas such as residential gardens, parks, recreation grounds and allotments; and land that was previously developed but where the remains of the permanent structure or fixed surface structure have blended into the landscape.

This provides a useful basis for us to discuss Greenfield land.

Greenfield Land

Although there is no definition in the NPPF for "Greenfield", essentially it is used to describe a site's character. Usually, therefore, Greenfield land is land which has not been developed.

This is often land which is in the countryside and that people wish to protect from extreme development. Effectively - Greenfield land is the opposite to brownfield land.

Importantly - Greenfield land should never be confused with Green Belt land as the two are entirely different, as we will now discuss...

Green Belt Land

The Green Belt was introduced to control urban growth and create a buffer between major towns and cities and the countryside.

The NPPF says that the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl - essentially, we want to ensure our cities don't grow uncontrollably.

An extract from the Government's map of planning data is included below, which shows the Green Belt boundaries around England.

You can clearly see the Green Belt is located around England's major cities - such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle.

In recent times, there has been a lot of talk in politics around housing development and the Green Belt. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities recently published the Green Belt statistics: England: 2022-23 which showed that across England there has been a net increase (860ha / 0.1%) in Green Belt land since 2022.

So what's the difference?

The main takeaway is that Green Belt land is not always Greenfield land. Many people who engage in the planning system use the two interchangeably but there is a fundamental difference.

Green belt land is not always Greenfield land. Oftentimes, Green Belt land can be brownfield land or sites in states of disarray, where development would be welcomed by a community.

Likewise, Greenfield land is not always Green Belt land, but this doesn't mean that all developments can occur here without due consideration from the Local Planning Authority.

The key goal of the planning system should be to ensure we put the right development in the right places to serve the people and communities who enjoy the space.

If you have a site or development which is brownfield, Greenfield, or Green Belt land and would like to learn more about how these different designations would impact your scheme, feel free to get in touch.


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