Humpty Dumpty was wrong!

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Over the next few weeks and months many will talk about the green belt, brownfield sites, greenfield sites. Plans will be drawn up, committees will discuss and councillors will vote.  In all of this it is important to use words consistently and accurately if we are to have a meaningful dialogue and an acceptable outcome to our collective deliberations.

The National Planning Policy Framework recognises that there are policies in place to ensure that development can be restricted in certain cases: “policies relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives (see paragraph 119) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of
Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or within a National Park (or the Broads Authority); designated heritage
assets; and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.”

The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanence. Green Belt serves five purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

You can see a map of our local Green Belt by visiting  The website is hosted by the Daily Telegraph.

The NPPF defines the term Previously Developed Land (PDL) as follows:

Previously developed land: Land which is or was occupied by a permanent
structure, including the curtilage of the developed land (although it should not be
assumed that the whole of the curtilage should be developed) and any associated
fixed surface infrastructure.

The NPPF uses ‘brownfield’ virtually as a synonym for PDL. However most of us would not consider the house we live in as ‘brownfield’ even though it is PDL. Helpfully the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) in “NLUD Classification Version 4.4” identifies two types of PDL that are what most of us would think of when we use the word ‘brownfield’:

11.1 Vacant Previously developed land
+ Previously developed land which is now vacant and could be redeveloped without treatment, where treatment includes any of the following: demolition, clearing of fixed structures or foundations and levelling.
+ Vacant buildings that are structurally sound and in a reasonable state of repair (i.e. capable of being
occupied in their present state) where re-letting for their former use is not expected or that have
been declared redundant.
– Excludes land previously used for mineral extraction or waste disposal which has been or is being
restored for agriculture, forestry, woodland or other use.
11.2 Derelict Previously developed land
+ Land so damaged by previous industrial or other development that it is incapable of beneficial use without treatment, where treatment includes any of the following: demolition, clearing of fixed structures or foundations and levelling.
+ Abandoned and unoccupied buildings in an advanced state of disrepair i.e. with unsound roof(s).
– Excludes land damaged by development which has been or is being restored for agriculture, forestry, woodland or other open countryside use.
– Excludes land damaged by a previous development where the remains of any structure or activity have blended into the landscape in the process of time (to the extent that it can reasonably be considered as part of the natural surroundings), and where there is a clear reason that could outweigh the re-use of the site – such as its contribution to nature conservation – or it has subsequently been put to an amenity use and cannot be regarded as requiring redevelopment.

Interestingly ‘greenfield’ is not mentioned in either the NPPF or in the HCA NLUD document. A helpful way to think of greenfield is as land that has not been previously developed, mined or landfilled.

So as we enter the closing stages of finalising our local plan it would be good that we try and not copy Humpty Dumpty but to try and use words consistently and accurately.

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