What Are the Rules For Building on Green Belt Land?

Often the best business investment opportunities are right under your nose, yet are somewhere no one else has dared to look. A prime example is building on green belt land. Could this be an investment opportunity that many are missing out on? Here, we take a look at the regulations surrounding green belt land development.

Dramatic landscape of a field with sun shining through grey clouds

What is Classed as Green Belt Land?

‘Green belt’ is the name given to describe protected countryside and open space in the UK and is also a term used in government policy for controlling urban growth. It is not given to individual pieces of land but rather large sections of connected space surrounding cities or towns.

This idea was first suggested in the 1930s but was eventually brought in through the new Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, after which local authorities designated their first boundaries.

According to the National Planning Policy Framework, Green belt legislation serves five purposes:

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

In the last half century, the green belt has been blamed by many for the reducing the amount of available building plots, as well as pushing up the cost of new build property. However, many agree that green belt developments should be carefully considered in order to adhere to the goals above.

Where is Green Belt Land?

As we have mentioned, one of the purposes of designating green belt land is to prevent cities and built-up areas from sprawling out un-checked. So, it’s no surprise that key green belt areas centre on the outer fringes of major cities: for instance London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester.

For a fuller picture of where the UK’s green belt land is found exactly, take a look at this handy interactive map from Urbanist Architecture.

What is the Difference Between Greenfield and Green Belt Land?

Green belt land, as mentioned above, is land that is highly protected and has tight restrictions on it for development.

On the other hand, greenfield land is space that has not been built upon before and is most likely used for agriculture or as grassland.

These terms are often confused, but the main difference is the level of protection they receive. Greenfield land is not strongly protected, unless it is found within a green belt.

Can You Build on Green Belt Land?

The level of protection over green belt land is high, and planning permission is therefore more difficult to secure. However, it is still possible to build on a green belt. In fact, there are calls for the government to clarify which sections of green belt land have been

There are misconceptions surrounding what green belt land is, as land agent Aston Mead explains:

“There’s this persistent idea that that green belt land has an inherent ecological or agricultural value, or that it has natural beauty or protected wildlife. But this is simply not the case. Having a Green Belt is just a limit on development land supply, and it’s essentially arbitrary.”

Though there are areas of the green belt deserving care and protection, permitted developments in the green belt are on the rise. However, it is important to have a good understanding of green belt development regulations for considering any kind of property development in one of these areas. So, what are the rules exactly?

Regulations for Building on Green Belt Land

Building of any kind is generally banned unless it is for exceptional circumstances. Local Planning Authorities may authorise building work if it is for:

  • Agricultural buildings
  • Outdoor sport or recreation facilities
  • The proportionate extension or alteration of a current structure
  • The replacement of a current building for the same use
  • Providing much-needed affordable housing

In 2018, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published guidance on protecting green belt land which stated the ‘need for development’ space for affordable housing is not a sound enough reason on its own to gain approval for construction.

An assessment must be carried out which considers:

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Protected Sites
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Heritage Coast
  • Heritage Assets
  • National Parks
  • Flood Risk

Achieving planning permission for building multiple properties on green belt land can be difficult. However, a lone property may be easier due to a clause in the National Planning Policy Framework. Paragraph 79 allows for one-off isolated homes of exceptional quality that are innovative or outstanding.

Growing Number of Building Projects on Green Belt Land


In 2020, local authorities received planning applications for the construction of 35,000 additional homes on green belt land. Of course, not all of these were accepted, but more than 24,000 have been constructed over the last decade. In fact, in 2017, the number of homes built on UK green belts doubled. However, 35% of all green belt land still remains for agricultural purposes.

The government claims these permissions are subject to local planning authorities, but many believe that ‘exceptional circumstances’ and the pressure to keep up with national targets for the number of new build properties being built each year have caused them to become more lenient.

Councils are encouraged to prioritise development on brown field sites (land previously used for industrial use). However, many councils are altering the historic green belt boundaries in order to create more housing. And this is where the business investment opportunities appear for anyone looking to put their money into property.

Read more: Everything You Need-to-Know About Building on Brownfield Sites

Find Finance For Your Next Project with Our Help

To learn more about opportunities for building on green belt or brownfield land, contact your local authority planning office. If you require development finance for land that you hope to build on, we can help – get in touch today.

Article By Tom Rowlands

July 12th, 2021

Tom joined Pure Property Finance in 2017 after a career as a Client Wealth Manager, where he spent just under 3 years advising on financial and tax planning. Tom specialises in bridging finance and property development funding, having completed deals ranging from a simple £30K property purchase through to £2m+ mixed-use developments.

See more articles by Tom

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