Policy Option 10 – Green Belt

  1. The aim of Green Belt is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Not all countryside and greenspace are classified in his way. Green Belt is a specific policy protection that only applies to certain designated areas.

  1. Oxfordshire has an expansive area of Green Belt that surrounds the city of Oxford and which extends in to all four rural districts surrounding the city.

  1. The first Oxford Green Belt policies were introduced in 1958 with a tight inner boundary surrounding the city of Oxford and extending for 5 or 6 miles in every direction washing over a number of surrounding villages.

  1. The rationale for the protection of the Green Belt in Oxfordshire has been expanded over time but with the main purposes of protecting the special character of Oxford and its landscape setting, checking the growth of Oxford and preventing ribbon development and urban sprawl and preventing the coalescence of settlements.

  1. If applied to Oxford, the national definition of Green Belt and the 5 purposes that it serves are as follows;

  1. to check the unrestricted sprawl of Oxford;
  2. to prevent neighbouring settlements merging into one another;
  3. to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  4. to preserve the setting and special character of Oxford; and
  5. to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

  1. The extent of Oxford's Green Belt is illustrated on the map below:
  1. Making changes to the Green Belt boundary, i.e. taking land out of the Green Belt or adding new areas to it, requires exceptional circumstances to be demonstrated. The consideration of Spatial Options could lead to further Green Belt release if exceptional circumstances could be demonstrated.

  1. As the NPPF records in para 137 ‘Before concluding that exceptional circumstances exist to justify changes to Green Belt boundaries, the strategic policymaking authority should be able to demonstrate that it has examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development.’

  1. The extent of the Oxford Green Belt has reduced in recent years, particularly on the inner edge, adjacent to Oxford, where there has been pressure for development to meet housing needs, and a lack of reasonable alternatives to deliver this new development. Allocations for development that satisfied the 'exceptional circumstances' test have resulted in land being removed from the Green Belt in sustainable locations through the adopted Local Plans.

  1. Looking forward to 2050 and having regard to the importance of openness and permanence of the Green Belt, the Oxfordshire Plan could present an opportunity to enhance the Green Belt for beneficial uses as the NPPF sets out in para 141 ‘Once Green Belts have been defined, local planning authorities should plan positively to enhance their beneficial use, such as looking for opportunities to provide access; to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation; to retain and enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or to improve damaged and derelict land.’

  1. So, for the Oxfordshire Plan, the beneficial uses could include the list of uses identified in the NPPF and also the provision of accessible natural green space, creation of ecological networks and local food production and with direct and indirect benefits for the health and wellbeing of Oxfordshire's residents and the protection and enhancement of landscape, heritage and biodiversity.

Policy Option

  1. It is proposed that the Oxfordshire Plan should have regard to the Green Belt in determining the spatial strategy for Oxfordshire to 2050 and NPPF paras 136 and 137. Subject to meeting the NPPF requirements this could include identification of opportunities to enhance the Green Belt for its beneficial uses.

Preferred Policy Option

  1. The preferred option is for the Oxfordshire Plan to consider NPPF para 141 and having completed the appropriate assessment the Plan would then focus on Green Belt enhancement in order to strengthen the important roles that the Green Belt plays, as well as supporting key objectives of the Oxfordshire Plan to improve the health and wellbeing of communities, deliver environmental enhancements and support nature’s recovery.

Policy Option 10 – Green Belt enhancement

The Oxfordshire Plan would identify strategic opportunities to enhance the existing Oxford Green Belt i.e. provide access, opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation, enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or improve damaged or derelict land.

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