Whitehall issues a circular and the green-belt policy gathers pace …

September 1955

Tackling urban sprawl

Following a statement about creating green belts in the House of Commons on 26 April Duncan Sandys, minister of housing and local government, sent a circular (No 42/55) last month to local planning authorities in England and Wales drawing their attention to the importance of checking the unrestricted sprawl of the built-up areas, and of safeguarding the surrounding Countryside against further encroachment.

The minister is satisfied, states the circular, that the only effective way to achieve this objective is by the formal designation of clearly defined green belts around the areas concerned. The minister accordingly recommends planning authorities to consider establishing a green belt wherever this is desirable for the following reasons.

  • To check the further growth of a large built-up area
  • To prevent neighbourhood towns from merging one into the other
  • To preserve the special character of a town.

Whenever practical, the circular continues, a green belt should be several miles wide so as to ensure an appreciable rural zone all around the built-up areas concerned.

Inside a green belt approval should not be given, except in special circumstances, for the change of use of existing buildings for purposes other than agriculture, sport, cemeteries, institutions standing in extensive grounds or other appropriate rural uses.

Apart from a strictly limited amount of “infilling” or “rounding off” (within boundaries to be defined in the town map) existing towns and villages inside a green belt should not be allowed to expand further. Even within the urban areas thus defined every effort should be made to prevent further building for industrial or commercial purposes since this, if allowed, would lead to a demand for more labour, which in turn would create a need for the development of additional land for housing.

A planning authority that wished to establish a green belt in its area should, after consulting any neighbouring planning authority affected, submit to the ministry as soon as possible a sketch plan indicating the approximate boundaries of the proposed belt.

In due course a detailed survey will be needed to define precisely the inner and outer boundaries of the green belt, as well as the boundaries of towns and villages within it.

The circular adds that this procedure may take some time to complete. Meanwhile it is desirable to prevent any further deterioration in the position. The minister therefore asks that where a planning authority has submitted a sketch plan for a green belt, it should forthwith apply provisionally.