Oxford Green Belt


Last modified:
16th December 2021

Despite its special ‘protected’ status, the Oxford Green Belt faces almost constant threats from land owners, developers and the councils.

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).

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.

The Green Belt has safeguarded land from development for more than 50 years, preserving the unique setting and character of the historic city of Oxford and preventing uncontrolled urban sprawl.

Despite the long-standing strategy for Oxfordshire’s market towns to absorb growth within the county to relieve pressures in Oxford, the 21st century has seen the Green Belt under serious threats from development, as the city pushes for urban expansion and developers cast their covetous eyes on the open countryside around our prosperous city.

We have campaigned for decades to protect and strengthen our Green Belt and make full use of the opportunities it provides for people to appreciate the countryside right on our doorstep. It is an important and irreplaceable environmental resource that helps to promote locally grown food, supports wildlife and provides a much-loved breathing space for city dwellers.

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

It is:

  • The best means of protecting the Oxfordshire countryside from urban sprawl
  • A valuable resource for people to exercise and enjoy peace and quiet
  • A large area of truly rural landscape on the edge of our historic city
  • Important for agriculture and of growing importance for wildlife.

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.

The Oxford Green Belt is under threat as never before – we need your help to protect it for future generations!

76% of people believe the Oxford Green Belt should remain open and undeveloped. Download the report below.

Green Belt 2020 with legend 50


Government policy on the Green Belt was 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:

  • 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
  • To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

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.

Read CPRE Oxfordshire’s responses to date within the Resources section on the website.

Want to explore the Oxford Green Belt? CPRE Oxfordshire has produced a guide to the Oxford Green Belt Way, a fifty mile circular walk around Oxford, created by CPRE Oxfordshire. Find out more here.