Get in touch


Thank you for getting in touch. We will be in contact shortly.

Starmer made front page headlines last week as the Labour Leader, in a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce, expanded upon Labour’s 2024 Manifesto by suggesting alterations to Green Belt policy amongst a host of planning reforms aimed to increase home ownership which has been steadily declining since 2003. 


National Green Belt policy is contained within the National Planning Policy Framework and the policy wording is largely reflected within the development plans prepared by Local Planning Authorities.


Fundamentally, the aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence (paragraph 137).


Green Belt serves five purposes, which are essentially unchanged following the formal inclusion of Green Belt within the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act and subsequent 1955 Government Circular. These are:


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


Without prejudice to the permanence of the Green Belt, paragraph 139 and 140 of the Framework make provision for the alteration of Green Belt boundaries by Local Planning Authorities in ‘exceptional circumstances’, such as when planning for large scale development such as new settlements, major extensions and most commonly, through the preparation or updating of development plans. 


Starmer’s suggestion that local areas will be afforded the power to direct more housing on the Green Belt may therefore come as somewhat a surprise to local authorities, already regularly relying upon Green Belt release within Local Plans to deliver their housing requirements.


The Labour Leader has remained tight lipped on the exact details of any Green Belt reforms, or indeed how any changes to the policy will result in greater housing delivery on the ground. Critics would argue that the well-documented delays to the preparation of new Local Plans following Government proposals to ‘ditch housing targets’, the challenging political landscape and a drawn-out and highly uncertain decision-taking process are far more harmful to the delivery of much-needed new homes in Green Belt constrained authorities.


If Starmer is serious about boosting homeownership, then a firm commitment to local housing requirements, evidence-led Local Plans and reducing the present delays within both the plan-making and decision-taking system will be key.


Nevertheless, the Labour Leader’s willingness to engage in the most difficult of planning debates is a welcome breath of fresh air and an encouraging sign following the current Government’s widely critiqued draft revised National Planning Policy Framework and the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. 


Whilst Starmer has yet to reveal his party’s plans for Green Belt reform, DHA would welcome proposals that would help unlock otherwise suitable sites that contribute little to Green Belt purposes and are logically located close to existing infrastructure such as railway stations.


In the meantime, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is standing firm on the current Government’s own planning reforms, doubling down on Conservative pledges to remove top-down housing targets and protect the Green Belt.


With respective battle lines being drawn ahead of the next general election, DHA will be keeping a close eye on the potential reforms from both sides and what they may mean for future development opportunities in the Green Belt.


If you have a site that may be affected or wish to discuss any of the issues raised above; please contact Matthew Porter or David Bedford for further information.

Get in touch


Thank you for getting in touch. We will be in contact shortly.