What's in a Name?

What's in a name?
First workshop exploring purposes of the Metropolitan Green Belt

Our first workshop on the purpose and means of the Metropolitan Green Belt was held on Thursday 21st in the afternoon. Among the attendees were many academics, planning organisations, urban think tanks and consultancies, and the CPRE.  

The goals of this workshop was to question the purposes of the Green Belt and to look at other ways we might achieve these purposes.

Let’s recap. The green belt purposes are defined by the Government in the NPPF:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. 

What’s in a name? One justification for the green belt is the need to prevent sprawl. But what exactly is sprawl? One definition might be that it is the sort of development that we don’t like. Rather, we might think more in terms of planned and unplanned development. We could set out criteria for good development and judge proposed development against these. There can be better and worse development but a catch all term like sprawl is unhelpful. 

What’s in a name? As a belt it holds the city in. But for many the term green belt is wrong. It suggests a restrictive purpose reflected in the NPPF. Refocusing the purposes of the green belt might go hand in hand with a change in its form. If we were to focus more on giving people access to countryside we might look more favourably at green wedges or a green web rather than a green belt. 

What’s in a name? The green belt is immediately recognised. Planning tools are not easily recognised by the public. Most members of the public could not probably say much about SHLAAs or SHMAs or London’s density matrix. But many people know what the green belt is. Or do they? Are people too attached to the concept of green belt without knowing what it really is? In order to see what it is like, we need a large scale review to understand better what is actually out there. Some of it is green rolling countryside but some of it is poor quality land. We might, in time, find resources to improve it as open land, but where the location is right we might also consider building on some of it. 

What’s in a name? We all know where London is…on a map. But London’s influences stretches over a far greater area. In thinking through the contemporary city we need to pay attention to patterns of mobility that have changed dramatically since the green belt was instituted. It was set up when there were steam trains and far fewer cars and no motorway network. Of course the very point of a green belt is to be stable and to resist change. But given the massive changes in London since the green belt was instituted, it’s time to ask if the green belt can be adapted better to meet contemporary demands for access to housing and work.