Beyond the Green Belt  

Past, The last 80 years

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


The London County Council, under Herbert Morrison, sought ‘to provide a reserve supply of public open spaces and of recreational areas and to establish a green belt or girdle of open space’.


The Green Belt (London and Home Counties Act) empowered local authorities to buy land to create a green belt.

1938. Early legislation towards a Green Belt for London. Image courtesy of CPRE

1939. Unused proposal for a Green Belt signpost

1939. London County Council map of Green Belt – more visionary than an accurate description

'The Green Girdle’, made in 1941, celebrates the developing plans for the Green Belt. The wartime production may help explain the note of one-sided propaganda in the script. It proclaims ‘over one hundred square miles of parks, commons and woodlands’ are the ‘property of the people of the world’s greatest city. They are the lungs through which London breathes.’ The impressive imagery was shot by a young Jack Cardiff, who was to become one of the greatest cinematographers as well as an Oscar-nominated director.

Source: British Council Film Collection

1943. Concept for ‘green wedges’ by the planner and architect Trystan Edwards. This would have required wholesale demolition as well as encouraging paths of sprawl.


Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan emphasised the need for a green belt as part of its vision for providing adequate recreational space, with a further outer ring that would be kept for agricultural land to help serve the city.

1944. Visualisation by Peter Shepheard of Green Belt in the Abercrombie plan as ‘Lea valley green wedge, looking south towards London…


The Town and Country Planning Act strengthened planning control over land development, permitting local authorities to include green belts in their plans.


Government planning circular 42/55 strengthened the local authorities’ position across the country, enabling them to define green belts for their towns and cities.

1955. The circular issued by Minister of Housing Duncan Sandys that rolled out the Green Belt. Image courtesy of CPRE

1961. Analysis showing disparate land uses existing in an area of Green Belt north of London

1962. The growing Green Belt

1980s. Department of the Environment comparison of Unwin’s ‘green girdle’ with Abercrombie’s Green Belt Ring


National Planning Policy Framework reasserts importance of Green Belt:

The Government attaches great importance to Green Belts. The fundamental 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.

It also says that Green Belt serves five purposes:

  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
  5. To assist urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

And it adds:

Once Green Belts have been defined, local planning authorities should plan positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt, such as looking for opportunities to provide access; to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation; to retain and enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or to improve damaged and derelict land.

11 August 2014

A 148 per cent increase over five years on planning permissions being granted to build houses on Green Belt is reported in the Daily Telegraph, based on exclusive research by Glenigan.

6 October 2014

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles issues a planning guidance that reasserts the Government’s commitment: 

‘This government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt must be paramount.’

Recent Green Belt debates

As the economy has improved and awareness of the housing crisis has grown, pressure has increased on Green Belt around the country. Click the gallery below to see some recent press coverage.


Part of 'Beyond the Green Belt'