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The Oxford Green Belt Matters

Oxford city from Hinksey Hill Oxford city from Hinksey Hill Photo: © Jane Tomlinson

It is often said that the Green Belt is one of the few planning policies recognised by the public. The concept of having a "green belt" around London to restrain appalling urban sprawl was promoted by CPRE and others from about 1930. Proposals for the Oxford Green Belt were submitted in 1958, but for various reasons were not formally approved until 1975. As of 2017, the Green Belt around Oxford covers 34,910 hectares (approx. 13% of land area of county). (See Local Authority Green Belt Statistics below).

Oxford is an ancient city and its historic setting within a shallow valley, its dreaming spires and its timeless appearance make it one of the world's greatest and most beautiful urban environments. The Green Belt preserves its unique character.


Government policy on the Green Belt was recently reviewed in early 2012 as part of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). CPRE campaigned hard to maintain strong protection for the Green Belt. The final wording is, in our view, not as strong as previous policy guidance but still highlights the significant value of this landscape.

The NPPF says: ‘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.’

It also sets out the five key purposes of Green Belts:

The NPPF says that a local planning authority has an obligation to ‘plan positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt, 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.’‘As with previous Green Belt policy, inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.
‘When considering any planning application, local planning authorities should ensure that substantial weight is given to any harm to the Green Belt. ‘Very special circumstances’ will not exist unless the potential harm to the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness, and any other harm, is clearly outweighed by other considerations.’
With a few exceptions, such as limited outdoor sport or recreation facilities, or cemeteries, most new buildings in the Green Belt are considered inappropriate.

Certain other forms of development, such as mineral extraction and local transport infrastructure, may be considered, provided they preserve the openness of the Green Belt and do not conflict with the purposes of including land in Green Belt.


Research from Natural England concluded that after fifty years the Oxford Green Belt is still a vital environmental asset.

It is:

Oxfordshire is an economically buoyant county, so it is not surprising that the Oxford Green Belt is constantly under threat from development: from major urban extensions to wind turbines.

CPRE Oxfordshire strongly believes that the Green Belt remains a vital tool in promoting sustainable forms of living, safeguarding the open countryside and protecting the character of one of England's ancient cities.


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