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green belt

  An area of open, low-density land use surrounding existing major cities and conurbations whose further extension, including the possible merging of urban areas, is strictly controlled. While occasionally applied elsewhere (e.g. in the Dutch Randstad) the term is more firmly tied to its British roots than planning concepts such as the garden city and New Town, which share a similar historical genesis.

Green belts represent the largest single element in the land-use planning of metropolitan England since the Second World War, and feature prominently in someurban and regional planning strategies, especially in southeast England. The first such formal proposal appeared in Ebenezer Howard\'s garden city scheme, where the green belt both provided for agriculture and leisure, and acted as a buffer against excessive urban growth. A variety of green belts was advocated around London from the 1890s onwards (Elson, 1986), but land-acquisition costs to local authorities proved prohibitive until the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. This allowed green belt designations to be proposed under county Development and Structure Plans, a trend encouraged by a central government circular of 1955 extolling their virtues to control conurbation growth and urban coalescence and to maintain the character of historical towns. Their role as providing recreational and amenity space for town dwellers could be added to this rationale although, in practice, most green belt land in Britain remains in private hands.

Green belt designations in England more than doubled between 1979 and 1993, to 12 per cent of the total area — the equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland being 2 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively. Controversy over their justification has intensified over the same period. For their opponents (especially in the house-building lobby) green belts are negative devices, preventing development by \'NIMBY\'-minded residents and planning authorities, leading to its leap-frogging beyond the green belt with accelerated commuting costs. Costs to the national economy are also increased, by insulating such land from \'normal\' development processes (e.g. Simmie, 1993). However, central government, encouraged by conservation lobby groups, has thus far largely resisted calls to relax building restrictions in the green belt, and has recently encouraged local authorities to seek residential land needs for much of the household expansion in Britain within the next century on \'brownfield\' sites (i.e. previously under non-rural uses), most of which lie outside the green belts. (AGH)

References Elson, M. 1986: Green belts. London: Heinemann. Simmie, J. 1993: Planning at the crossroads. London: University College London Press.

Suggested Reading Munton, R.J.C. 1983: London\'s green belt: containment in practice. London: Allen and Unwin.



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