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Multifunctional Green Belts A planning policy assessment of Green Belts wider functions in England

04 Aug 2023

Multifunctional Green Belts: A planning policy assessment of Green Belts wider functions in England

Matthew G. Kirby *, Alister J. ScottDepartment of Geography and Environmental Science, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK

In England, Green Belt policy primarily aims to prevent urban sprawl and maintain openness. This contrastsglobally with a new generation of multi-goal Green Belts which contribute to climate action and ecosystemservices provision. Recently, there have been calls from researchers and practitioners for England to follow suitand widen the scope of Green Belts to provide multifunctional benefits around towns and cities. Although somesecondary objectives to encourage wider benefits of Green Belt exist in English national planning policy, it isunclear if, and how, these objectives are implemented by planning authorities. Responding to this research andpolicy gap, this paper assesses the extent to which Green Belt policy in England promotes multifunctionalbenefits for people and nature. A bespoke multi-criteria policy assessment framework was designed and used on apurposive sample of 69 planning authorities across England, reflecting different governance structures andurban, peri-urban and rural locations. The results show there is considerable variation in the way benefits fromGreen Belts are promoted in planning policy, which can be categorised into four typologies. Where policies scorehigh for coverage, they often had weak policy wording. Assessment criteria for protecting natural capital acrossscales scored highest, whilst multifunctionality, mainstreaming of ecosystem services and equitable policy deliveryscored lowest of the criteria overall. Key policy hooks identified which increase assessment scores includeGreen Infrastructure and regional tier of government. Additionally, our results echo international literaturesuggesting the importance of a regional tier of government in catalysing more ambitious Green Belt policy.Whereas, some local and regional authorities perceive and treat Green Belts as positive natural capital assetscapable of providing multifunctional benefits to people, their full potential has not yet been fully realised ormainstreamed in English planning policy.


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