In a change from the wording set out in the draft version of the document, local authorities should alter green belt boundaries only where exceptional circumstances are 'fully evidenced and justified', the new NPPF says.
In order to establish that exceptional circumstances exist, local planning authorities should be able to demonstrate that it has examined fully "all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development" (paragraph 137). This would include looking at whether the strategy makes "as much use as possible" of brownfield land and underutilised land, as well as whether the density of any development coming forward within the area has been optimised in line with the requirements of Part 11 of the NPPF.
The new policy would also require proposals for green belt releases to have been "informed by discussions with neighbouring authorities" in terms of whether housing could be accommodated elsewhere. This would place a more formal requirement on authorities to demonstrate co-operation through the preparation of statements of common ground. It remains to be seen in terms of whether this is realistic or workable, given the inherent sensitivities of such discussions between neighbouring authorities (particularly those with great swathes of green belt within their area).
Plan making bodies should also 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. From a developer's perspective this could mean that additional cost is incurred in terms of providing any improvement works on land which will remain within the green belt, in order to facilitate the release of green belt required for development.
The remainder of the provisions regarding protection of the green belt remain largely as set out in the consultation draft, confirming the government's ongoing commitment to robustly protecting land within the green belt.
Indeed, the omissions are as perhaps of as much interest in terms of the green belt provisions. The NPPF proposes no change to the five long-standing purposes of including land in green belt, signalling a reluctance to modernise thinking in this regard. Equally, there is no amendment to the rule that inappropriate development is by definition harmful to the green belt and should only be approved in very special circumstances. There is, however, confirmation that cemeteries, burial grounds and allotments should not be regarded as inappropriate development.
The new NPPF allows for residential development that contributes to local affordable housing on brownfield green belt sites, so long as it does not cause "substantial harm" to green belt openness.