Greenbelt expansion could cinch rural communities

London’s Metropolitan Greenbelt faces rising pressure from developers

By Kate Ayers

London, England’s Metropolitan Greenbelt is one of the world’s oldest greenbelts.

The city established the land-use plan exactly 80 years ago through the Greenbelt Act.

The roots of this protected area extend even further, however, as Sir Ebenezer Howard, a British urban planner, formulated the idea in 1890, the London Greenbelt Council’s website says. His vision of “garden cities” included a belt around cities to preserve rural land.

The Metropolitan Greenbelt occupies about 1.2 million acres and serves to curb the growth of London and surrounding neighbourhoods. It is the largest of England’s 14 Greenbelts, covering 30 per cent of England’s total greenbelt-protected land, a 2010 report by Natural England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England says.

 London England Greenbelt
    nyxmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

“The fundamental aim of the Greenbelt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open,” the National Planning Policy Framework says.

Arable and horticultural land account for 39 per cent of the protected area, and 18 per cent is broadleaf or mixed leaf woodland. The Greenbelt also includes improved grassland, semi-natural grassland, and built up areas and gardens, the report says.

The protected areas help to ensure food security, soil protection, recreation and health promotion as well as ecosystem benefits, the London Green Belt Council’s website says.

A booming real estate market in the area, however, has driven house prices up, meaning that many people cannot access affordable housing. Given these conditions, the Metropolitan Greenbelt faces the most pressure of all England’s protected lands for urban development, the report says.

So, some stakeholders argue the country needs to change the Metropolitan Greenbelt, says a 2016 report conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science. An effective approach would free up land for housing but would still protect the most valued features of the area.

Such a plan would “unfreeze housing supply in the region, enhance environmental sustainability and contribute to a coherent long-term form of spatial development across this vital region,” the report says. BF

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