The Green Belt explained
What does the term Green Belt mean, where can it be found in Bedfordshire, and what protections does it offer?
Green Belt is a defined area of countryside around a town or city which is protected from ‘inappropriate’ forms of development, as defined in government planning policy on Green Belts. Controls over new development, especially housing, are tighter than for most of the countryside. There are 14 Green Belts throughout the country, covering about 13% of England, which provide fresh air for around 30 million people. The trees, hedgerows and fields act as a carbon sink, can help reduce flooding and reduce the ‘heat island’ effect of towns and cities. Quality or appearance of land is not a factor when deciding whether to designate it as a Green Belt.
The five purposes of the Green Belt
- Check unrestricted sprawl of urban areas
- Prevent neighbouring towns from merging with each other
- Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
- Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
- Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land
Green Belt in Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire’s only Green Belt land is on the northernmost edge of the London Metropolitan Green Belt. It provides Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard with Green Belt designated land.
A lot of countryside described by local people as Green Belt is not actually officially designated as such. Bedford, for example, has no Green Belt, but has a Green Wheel scheme which provides access to parks, countryside and other green spaces. This undesignated countryside often provides many of the same benefits for people and wildlife associated with Green Belt land.
The Green Belt, CPRE Bedfordshire and planning applications
When our team respond to planning applications one of the things we consider is whether a site is in the Green Belt or not.
A good example is the proposed Greenwoods New Town. CPRE Bedfordshire supports a local action group which was launched to help people respond to a proposed development near Wrest Park. The southern region of the site is in the Green Belt. The proposed development would see the loss of 72 ha, the site as a whole is 290 ha so Green Belt land accounts for about a quarter of the site. The proposed development would represent encroachment into the Green Belt countryside and would fail to preserve the setting and special character of the historic nature of the setting. This means that it is in conflict with the purposes of the Green Belt. There are no material considerations that have been demonstrated that clearly outweigh the harm caused to the Green Belt. Central Bedfordshire Council are yet to make a decision about whether the application will be approved.
London Green Belt Council
The local CPREs which have land included within this Green Belt belong to the London Green Belt Council. This is a grouping of over 100 organisations including councils, residents and environmental groups with a mutual concern for London’s Green Belt. The organisation shares knowledge and information on the threats and opportunities across London’s Green Belt, makes representations on relevant planning policies and lobbies and influences policy and decision makers. In partnership with LGBC the local CPREs produce a map of current threats to the Green Belt – proposals which will result in loss of Green Belt land. This is used to monitor irreversible loss of Green Belt land and amenities.
A version of this article first appeared in the autumn 2021 edition of our magazine for members, Bedfordshire Matters.