Beyond the Green Belt  


The protection of green space around cities has a long history.

In the Old Testament, Moses was told to:

give to the Levites… cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to live in; and their pasture lands shall be for their cattle and for their herds and for all their beasts…

Green belt ambitions became more a matter of historic record with Queen Elizabeth I. In 1593, concerned at the unhealthiness of the growing mass of dense building in the cities of London and Westminster, she sought to prohibit expansion by law:

Despite this order from the top, growth continued, including the early coalescence of London and Westminster, with the fields between them largely disappearing by the end of the 16th century.

In 1829 the Scottish landscape planner John Claudius Loudon gave ambitious form to the notion of a green belt for London in his work Hints for Breathing Places for the Metropolis. He proposed alternating rings of development and green space all the way to the coast:

our plan is very simple; that of surrounding London, as it already exists, with a zone of open country, at the distance of say one mile, or one mile and a half, from what may be considered the centre…the metropolis may be extended in alternate mile zones of buildings, with half mile zones of country or gardens, till one of the zones touched the sea

In the countryside he allowed for development that aided recreation:

…in the country zones we should permit individuals, on proper conditions of rent and regulations, to establish all manner of rural coffee-houses, and every description of harmless amusement; and the space not occupied by these establishments, and by the public buildings before mentioned, we would lay out as park and pleasure-ground scenery, and introduce in it all the plants, trees, and shrubs which would grow in the open air, with innumerable seats, covered and uncovered, in the sun and in the shade…

1829. Loudon’s plan for repeating rings of development and green zones for London. The numbers relate to districts, for example 2 in the north is Tottenham, 52 in the south is Sydenham and 21 near the centre is the then recently-built Regents Park. Image credits: All images courtesy of TCPA

The 19th century industrial growth and explosion in urban housing needs, and the advance of transport systems, meant that suburbs spread rapidly from major cities and towns with conurbations forming that eroded longestablished plans and views, while ribbon development along roads further undermined connection with the countryside.

In reaction to the sprawl, by the end of the century Ebenezer Howard was building the first garden city at Letchworth and proclaiming the need for many more such developments to offer the appropriate environment for healthy living.

1898. Ebenezer Howard’s Social City, a cluster of seven urban centres with green spaces between that contained more isolated developments such as ‘insane asylum’. The whole plan has a 20 mile circumference.

1898. Howard’s ‘Three Magnets’ diagram. The positives and negatives of Town and Country living are unified in the Town-Country model.

1898. Howard promoted green space within the ‘garden city’ as well as in surrounding areas.

In the early 20th century, a growing body of the powerful and influential discussed what should be done.

1901. Lord Meath’s plan for linking a ring of London parks with green tree-lined avenues

The London Society, formed in 1912, included several members who were proponents of the idea of a ring of green space. The Society presented the first Development Plan of Greater London in 1919 that specifically promoted the idea of a green belt.

Patrick Abercrombie’s book The Preservation of Rural England helped inspire, in 1926, the forming of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now known as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, or CPRE), which strengthened the green belt movement. Clough Williams-Ellis’s 1928 book England and the Octopus further captured the mood of rising horror at poorly planned development.

1927. Railway poster for the attractions of Welwyn Garden City, with a graphic that hints at a green belt. Image courtesy of TCPA.

1928. Prefatory cartoon in England And The Octopus by Clough Williams-Ellis

The last 80 years have seen a series of steps towards creating the Green Belt...

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Part of 'Beyond the Green Belt'