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

Matthew G. Kirby*, Alister J. Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
59 Downloads (Pure)


In England, Green Belt policy primarily aims to prevent urban sprawl and maintain openness. This contrasts globally with a new generation of multi-goal Green Belts which contribute to climate action and ecosystem services provision. Recently, there have been calls from researchers and practitioners for England to follow suit and widen the scope of Green Belts to provide multifunctional benefits around towns and cities. Although some secondary objectives to encourage wider benefits of Green Belt exist in English national planning policy, it is unclear if, and how, these objectives are implemented by planning authorities. Responding to this research and policy gap, this paper assesses the extent to which Green Belt policy in England promotes multifunctional benefits for people and nature. A bespoke multi-criteria policy assessment framework was designed and used on a purposive sample of 69 planning authorities across England, reflecting different governance structures and urban, peri-urban and rural locations. The results show there is considerable variation in the way benefits from Green Belts are promoted in planning policy, which can be categorised into four typologies. Where policies score high for coverage, they often had weak policy wording. Assessment criteria for protecting natural capital across scales scored highest, whilst multifunctionality, mainstreaming of ecosystem services and equitable policy delivery scored lowest of the criteria overall. Key policy hooks identified which increase assessment scores include Green Infrastructure and regional tier of government. Additionally, our results echo international literature suggesting 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 assets capable of providing multifunctional benefits to people, their full potential has not yet been fully realised or mainstreamed in English planning policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106799
Number of pages14
JournalLand Use Policy
Early online date29 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

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