A new Green Belt section was created when three brief paragraphs were added to the Planning Practice Guidance in July 2019. They relate to quantifying impact on openness and Compensatory Improvements. This blog discusses the aims and implications of Compensatory Improvements and looks at the issues it raises.
New Guidance on Compensatory Improvements
The guidance has been provided to contextualise Paragraph 138 of the NPPF which states:
“[The LPA should] set out ways in which the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset through compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of remaining Green Belt land.” (Ref: NPPF 2019, Para 138)” [Lichfields Emphasis].
“Where it has been demonstrated that it is necessary to release Green Belt land for development, strategic policy-making authorities should set out policies for compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of the remaining Green Belt land.” (Ref: PPG, Paragraph: 002 Reference ID: 64-002-20190722)
Following release, policies should set out Compensatory Improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of the remaining Green Belt land, this could include:
New or enhanced green infrastructure
Woodland or other appropriate planting
Landscape and visual impact enhancements
New walking or cycling routes
It is possible that these Compensatory Improvements could become part of Very Special Circumstances, though this remains unproven.
These are to be secured by conditions, S106 or CIL, with S106 recommended to secure the long term maintenance of any improvements.
The implication of this guidance is that the LPA must decide, or clients could propose, where to locate the Compensatory Improvements. The remaining Green Belt land where these improvements are located will become of higher value and greater importance and therefore harder to remove from the Green Belt in the future. The wording of the guidance is clear that the improvements should be located in remaining Green Belt land, however in practice it is likely that the areas deleted from the Green Belt will have an area designated for these improvements immediately adjacent, ideally within the ownership of the same landowner. If another landowner is needed, this could add to the complexity of the development and potentially even a ‘ransom’ situation. As land is slowly deleted from the Green Belt over time, these compensatory improvement areas could become parks or landscaped areas surrounded by new urban development; potentially not fulfilling the Green Belt purposes but becoming important urban green spaces.
The location and form of Compensatory Improvements now represents a key policy requirement which must be met when proposing sites for removal from the Green Belt. As well as demonstrating the requirement for the site to be deleted, an assessment will need to be made to determine an appropriate package of Compensatory Improvements and a parcel of land within the Green Belt within which the improvements could be located will need to be identified. Developers will then need to propose the nature and extent of the Compensatory Improvements and how they will be delivered and managed. Once secured, it would be necessary to demonstrate both the deliverability of the Compensatory Improvements and that they would constitute a significant benefit for the sites deallocation.
Issues and unexplained mechanisms?
In light of the above, if there is no area for Compensatory Improvements following the deletion of land, it is not immediately clear how the LPA will locate areas for Compensatory Improvements. It may be that through the Green Belt Review, the LPA, alongside landowners and developers, will identify the most valuable areas of the Green Belt, i.e. the areas which meet most of the five tests. It is worth noting that these may not necessarily be the areas of Green Belt where improvements would have the greatest impact. Given that these areas are the least likely to be deleted due to their positive contributions, it may be the case that the Compensatory Improvements are located on these areas. It would be prudent therefore to understand if Compensatory Improvements required by a sites deletion can be located on this land, and the potential landownership issues this may cause. Alternatively, if improving access is the key objective, the other land close to the urban edge and/or transport infrastructure could be most suitable.
Securing a deal on any land needed for Compensatory Improvements will also be crucial. Ideally this should be understood, confirmed with the LPA then a deal done with the landowner before the removal of the Green Belt is publicized through consultation on a draft local plan. If a deal isn’t struck then a landowner may take advantage of an opportunity to increase the value of their land as the housing development becomes more dependant upon it. The additional cost of Compensatory Improvement Land and the improvements themselves also need to be accounted for as an additional cost on the housing development. They could compromise the viability of development when other costs and contributions are taken into account or reduce the return to the landowner to a level that does not incentivise them.
If the owners of development land do not own any other land, should the land owner of where the Compensatory Improvements are to be located receive residential ransom values for having them there? While they are indeed crucial to unlocking the Green Belt release, this could be a disproportionate addition to the cost of development for what would be landscaping and ecological enhancements located on another owners parcel of land. Demonstrating that the location of the Compensatory Improvements have already been secured through discussions with landowners will be an essential part of demonstrating the deliverability of a housing allocation, though there is huge uncertainty in assessing what scale of Compensatory Improvements would be considered appropriate. This is completely subjective and there is significant scope for disagreement with officers and councillors.
This clearly also presents an opportunity for some landowners. They could receive additional value for their land by offering it as a suitable location for Compensatory Improvements. Alternatively, if one has aspirations for development on a site currently designated as Green Belt, it will be crucial to avoid any Compensatory Improvements being located on this land, though ultimately the landowner will have the final say.
Compensatory Improvements could be another well meaning planning mechanism that becomes a highly controversial area as the parameters are established through expensive and costly legal cases.
Securing the release of land from the Green Belt for residential development already required ‘exceptional circumstances’. The additional requirement of securing Compensatory Improvements represent a further very difficult obstacle for landowners and developers to overcome. However, with careful planning and negotiation, with a good deal of creativity, if could also present opportunities to unlock suitable land by presenting an attractive considered package of development land and Compensatory Improvements. Lichfields have significant experience in the promotion and development of Green Belt land, we are always open to speaking to landowners and developers on any issues that arise.
Sally Furminger & Steven Butterworth
05 Dec 2019
Once again London’s housing requirement is recommended to be a capacity-based figure, rather than one meeting local housing need (as required in the rest of the country). With proposed amendments to the housing requirements (see our previous blog) the gap between housing need and housing target will be c. 14,000 dwellings per annum (dpa). To help address the ever-increasing backlog, the panel recommend a comprehensive Green Belt review.
This blog addresses the above findings of the Panel who examined the draft New London Plan and reported on it, last month. We commend the recommended Green Belt review and explore a number of (as yet) unanswered questions on its deliverability.
The Panel’s Key Findings
In seeking to answer how best to accommodate London’s strategic development needs, the Panel asked: ‘‘Should some of London’s development needs be met through reviewing Green Belt and Metropolitan Open Land?”.
The resounding finding of the Panel is: yes…but not yet…not as part of this New London Plan. The Panel concludes that:
“…the inescapable conclusion is that if London’s development needs are to be met in future then a review of the Green Belt should be undertaken to at least establish any potential for sustainable development.” (para 457); and,
“given our conclusions about the ability to deliver housing and industrial development within London it would be wrong to unilaterally rule out changes to the Green Belt.” (para 460)
The Panel’s recognition of the need for a Green Belt Review followed similar calls and evidence from multiple parties during the EiP. Its recommendation represents an opportunity to do more to meet London’s strategic needs through a plan-led approach to unlocking sites in locations where development is urgently needed, rather than the present reliance upon planning by appeal. It also provides the potential to identify larger Green Belt land releases which could become new growth areas.
It would appear from the Panel’s questions and report that this review would equally apply to the capital’s Metropolitan Open Land (MOL). And so it should.
The rein to review the performance of both Green Belt and MOL land across London would be loosened by the Panel’s recommended changes to Policies G2 and G3, to remove the blanket provision that de-designation of both GB and MOL will not be supported. The recommendation is to ensure consistency with national policy, requiring reference to de-designation only in ‘very special circumstances’.
To avoid a ‘limbo’ situation where-by the Plan would be delayed, the Panel recommends that the Mayor leads a ‘‘a strategic and comprehensive review of the Green Belt in London as part of the next review of the London Plan’’ (PR35) (our emphasis).
The Panel suggests (para 596), the earliest date for a draft Plan would be at the end of 2022 (albeit noting the Mayor suggests summer 2023). It goes on to conclude: “…there would be little to be gained from requiring an immediate review until such time as a full review of London’s Green Belt has been undertaken as recommended to assess the potential for sustainable development there and whether and how the growth of London might be accommodated. Therefore we make no recommendation that an early or immediate review of the London Plan should be carried out” (para 599) (our emphasis).
The effect of that ought to mean an immediate review of the GB & MOL, so as not to delay the subsequent review of the Plan itself. Completion of that GB/MOL Review within 1-2 years from adoption of the New London Plan is achievable and necessary.
The Panel is silent on how the review should be undertaken, save for recommending that an effective Green Belt review in London would ‘likely’ involve joint working and positive engagement with adjoining authorities and boroughs (para 454). It is left to the GLA to indicate the means by which the comprehensive review is to be undertaken in the New London Plan (PR35), albeit they ask for a central methodology to be devised by the GLA, to ensure consistency.
In our (Lichfields) submissions to the Panel, we argued that a comprehensive review of Green Belt and MOL must be undertaken in each Borough with the objective being to determine whether there is (or isn’t) designated land which does not meet one or more of the ‘purposes’ and should therefore be released for housing or other development needs – the Panel identify there to be a medium to long term need for more industrial development (para 453).
Where to prioritise?
Whenever the London wide review is undertaken, what or where are the priorities?
Some 22% of Greater London (35,109 ha) is designated as Green Belt and almost 10% (15,681 ha) is designated as MOL. These designations are not though spread evenly across London (see GiGL map below):
More than half of the total area of Green Belt is found in just three outer London Boroughs (Bromley, Havering and Hillingdon);
The twelve inner London boroughs (20% of London’s land area) contain just over a quarter (27%) of Greater London’s MOL; and
Inner London is 14% MOL and 0% Green Belt whereas, outer London is 9% MOL and 27% Green Belt.
Figure one: Area of Green Belt and MOL per borough.
Source: Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, on behalf of CPRE London, September 2018
We suggest that the GLA ought to consider which of the London boroughs have already undertaken reviews of GB/MOL land and whether these are up to date having regard to the GLA’s future central methodology.
Lichfields has recently undertaken a review of all (19) outer-London Boroughs to identify which had undertaken reviews of their Green Belt and/or MOL land to support either adopted or emerging local plans. Our review found that:
Three boroughs had undertaken reviews to support both adopted local plans and either undertaken (Croydon, Havering) or stated intention to undertake (Enfield) reviews to support emerging local plans.
Three boroughs had undertaken reviews to support adopted Local Plans only (Hillingdon, Redbridge and Sutton).
Five boroughs had either undertaken (Barking and Dagenham, Hounslow, Kingston) or stated intention to undertake (Barnet and Waltham Forest) reviews to support emerging Local Plans only.
This leaves eight boroughs that have not undertaken a review to support either emerging or adopted local plans.
Figure one: Green Belt/ MOL Reviews undertaken by Outer London Boroughs.
It follows that, whilst all London Boroughs should be required to undertake a review using consistent methodology, the GLA might first focus attention on those outer London Boroughs with the highest proportion of GB and MOL land, that have not undertaken a GB and/or MOL review to support either an adopted or emerging Local plans.
Notably this would be Bromley where 56% of the land in the borough is currently designated Green Belt or MOL. The seven other boroughs in this category are Bexley (27%), Brent (7%), Ealing (21%), Haringey (17%), Harrow (28%), Merton (26%) and Richmond (54%). In addition, Hillingdon (43%) and Sutton (26%) last undertook Green Belt and/or MOL reviews c. 5 years ago and so, arguably, have not ‘recently’ done so.
The key implication of the Panel’s recommendations is that the pressure to review how Green Belt or MOL sites perform against the designation criteria is likely to increase. A discerning move for developers involved in land acquisition could be to seek options for acquiring inappropriately designated or poorly performing Green Belt or MOL sites that are suitable for housing or industrial development, particularly in those boroughs who have not recently undertaken a review of this land.
We do hope the Mayoral team will appreciate the priority that ought to be given to an immediate Green Belt and MOL review, when providing the Mayor’s response to the Panel’s recommendations and the ‘Intend to Publish’ version of the London Plan at the end of December. This requires early establishment of an assessment method, so that the potential for releases to provide for sustainable development can inform the next London SHLAA and subsequently the Plan itself.
See our other blogs in this series:
In search of London’s future industrial land
New London Plan Panel Report: Homes for all?
Lichfields will publish further analysis on the London Plan Panel Report and its implications in due course.
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 including Lichfields (as part of the Dylon 2 Ltd/ Relta Ltd submissions to the Plan Examination) See related Planning Matters blog by Steven Butterworth, July 2019  See related Planning Matters blog by Simon Slatford, December 2018