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The UK is currently facing a dramatic shortage in housing. With an ever-increasing population, we are not meeting the demand for housing across the country and it is clear that more homes need to be constructed. But where is the land for many of these new homes? In order to discuss this we need to establish the difference between brownfield, greenfield and Greenbelt designations of land.

Brownfield land is land that has been previously developed whereas greenfield land is that which has not previously been developed. Greenbelts are greenfield areas of land that are protected or safeguarded by planning policy initiatives. Development of brownfield sites is encouraged, especially in urban areas, but this hasn’t been enough to meet housing targets. Large attractive sites have quickly diminished leaving sites that have inherent difficulties.

What is the Greenbelt?

The Greenbelt is a concept first introduced in London in the 1930s & 40s, where issues emerged due to the expansion of cities. It was designed to protect the countryside from the rapid urban expansion. Towns and cities would be surrounded by narrow belts of green land that served functions of life like hospitals, schools and places for recreation and food production. The concept was quickly taken up by authorities around the country to protect land around major cities. Currently Greenbelts account for around 13% of land in the UK.

What problems are there?

As I’ve previously alluded to, we're in the middle of a housing shortage. This has several negative effects, the foremost being that young adults have no opportunity to get on the housing ladder. In the rush to provide affordable housing Local Authorities are compromising on things like the sizes of dwellings, making them smaller to achieve higher densities of dwellings per hectare. In cities the permitted development rights for the conversion of office buildings into residential units are leading to developers taking advantage of their tenants by converting large offices into featureless cramped accommodation. This all has a negative effect on living conditions.

Greenbelts are also no longer addressing the issue of urban sprawl. Because this policy limits land in the city it becomes more expensive as the city grows. This makes communities outside the city attractive sites to live. This is facilitated by the development of transport hubs on the fringes of cities that enables the movement of business and people. These suburbs grow to surround the greenbelt and effectively become another ring of the city, effectively suburbanisation.

Is it Time to Rethink the UK’S Greenbelt?

According to research, if every brownfield site were to be fully built on in the 10 least affordable cities in the UK, there would be capacity for around 400,000 extra homes. This would achieve the government's aim to deliver 300,000 new homes for one year after which other cities would have to be developed. It sounds achievable however this ‘developable land’ is complex. Developers don’t want to invest in upgrading the infrastructure around these sites or in assembling the small parcels of land to create a larger developable site. This can all be expensive so it won’t be done unless the local authority and city take an active approach to developing brownfield sites. Partnerships could be formed between landowners and house builders/housing associations to co-fund infrastructure which would decrease the risk of development and encourage them to commit.

The belief that releasing Greenbelt sites is a bad idea is a very close-minded assumption. If our local planners are ever to achieve the targets set for housing some Greenbelt land will need to be developed. This shouldn’t become the primary solution, the strategic release of Greenbelt land should be considered on a case by case basis. The local planners will need to put programs in place that aid in the development of brownfield sites currently unsuitable for developers for the rest of their targets. If building on a Greenbelt it would be good practice to offset the environmental impact of this development by using carbon neutral building practices.

How can ARKHI help?

At Arkhi, we have a positive track record for securing low-impact residential development on green belt sites around Cheshire and Staffordshire. Some notable examples are Cloudhaus, The Roost and Gillows Barn. If you would like to find out more or discuss your project with one of the Arkhi team, get in touch on 01260 540170 or drop us an email at


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