Councils Look To Green Belt To Meet Housing Needs

A local authority in north west England has removed nine sites from the green belt to help meet its need for housing.20 Jan 2016

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Earlier this month, Knowsley Council approved the adoption of its local plan core strategy (302-page / 8.8 MB PDF). The document will guide the development of a proposed 8,100 new homes in the Council’s administrative area by 2028, including more than 3,000 homes at sites previously allocated as green belt land.

The sites removed from the green belt include 110 hectares of land south of Whiston, which has been allocated for 1,503 new homes and a site to the east of Halewood which is earmarked for around 1,100 homes and new public open space.

National planning policy allows sites to be removed from the green belt through the local plan process in “exceptional circumstances”. According to Knowsley Council’s core strategy document, a strategic housing land availability assessment found that “without reviewing the green belt boundary, Knowsley would be unable to maintain a five-year ‘deliverable’ supply of housing land beyond the short to medium term”.

A study of employment land and premises also showed that there was not enough suitable land for employment development within the existing urban areas of Knowsley. Land to the south of the M62 motorway has been released from the green belt to deliver employment land and a country park and Knowsley Industrial and Business Parks are proposed to be expanded eastward into former green belt land.

Coventry City Council (CCC) is also considering the release of sites from the green belt as part of its local planning process. Public consultation opened this week on a draft local plan that would release around 10% of the green belt around Coventry for development.

CCC cabinet member for business, enterprise and employment, Kevin Maton said: “We have really tight boundaries and the only way we can grow the city is to use some of our existing under developed land … I think this is better than the alternative which would be to build skyscraper tower blocks across the city or to cram too many houses on small sites in already built up areas.”

Planning expert Jennifer Holgate of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said: “The position of Knowsley is certainly not unusual and many councils across England are currently sourcing available land for housing from the green belt as part of the local plan process. Of paramount importance to councils is to maintain control over their allocation of housing through demonstration of

a five year supply. Without it, councils can be vulnerable to house building by appeal in greenfield sites by developers.”

“Whilst there is no definition of ‘exceptional circumstances’ and case law has established that the bar is high, the inability to deliver much needed housing as is required by local authorities is clearly an important factor carrying weight that needs to be considered by any inspector when a council brings forward its local plan through the examination process,” said Holgate.

“In those areas where local authorities are not planning to undertake a green belt review there is some hope for developers arising out of the National Planning Policy Framework consultation,” said Rebecca Warren, also of Pinsent Masons. “Changes proposed by the government, will give developed brownfield sites within the green belt the opportunity for redevelopment, even where development causes harm to the openness of the green belt, so long as that harm is ‘not substantial’. However, any such development will need to contribute to the delivery of starter homes and will be subject to ‘local consultation‘, the details and extent of which are as yet unclear.”

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