Development pressure - challenges and practical considerations

The re-use of previously developed land for new development reduces the amount of countryside and undeveloped land that needs to be used. These developments should include the provision of greenspace. Where such a site has biodiversity or geological significance, local planning authorities and developers should aim to retain this feature or incorporate it into any development of the site.


The case for the importance of greenspaces in our towns and cities has been well made in recent years, based on international evidence of social, environmental and economic values and benefits derived from these spaces.

A range of different types of greenspace is needed to suit a wide variety of social demands and environmental conditions. Provision of quality greenspace is now the focus of specific government objectives in many European countries.

The UK Government has policies to support urban renaissance, sustainable communities and the quality of urban living through creating multifunctional greenspace and regenerating brownfield land. These policies are required to complement development, through the planning system, as demands for domestic and commercial growth continue to place increasing pressure on land use.

Practical considerations

Regional strategies

Balancing development and the effective provision of a range of quality greenspaces at the landscape scale requires regional strategies supported by statutory and non-statutory providers and users. A regional approach is required for the benefits of greenspace to be realised to their fullest potential (e.g. increased social and ecological connectivity).

Accurate information

An effective strategic vision for planning at the local or regional scale requires accurate information to ensure that planning objectives meet wider regional strategy objectives, and that planning balances supply and demand in the local context.

Lack of information at the local government scale has been recognised as a major factor in the decline of the quality and quantity of urban greenspaces - see Enhancing Urban Green Space (PDF-796K). Without basic local data about urban greenspaces, including how many there are, their total area and quality, and their uses, parks managers and local politicians alike are not well placed to make the case for greenspaces in terms of either financial support, their integrated inclusion in regional strategies, or their protection against development.

Green Belts

The decline in availability and quality of urban greenspaces during the 1970s to 1990s fuelled calls for access standards, in many ways echoing the challenge to urban sprawl that led to the establishment of the Green Belts. Green Belts are an essential element of UK planning: their policy aims, set out in 1955, remain valid today with remarkably little alteration. The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Green Belts can shape regional patterns of urban development and help to ensure that development is focused on allocated locations. Green Belts help to protect the countryside and assist in moving towards more sustainable patterns of urban development - see Planning Policy Guidance 2: Green Belts(PDF-163K).

Brownfield redevelopment

The sustainable development agenda encourages brownfield redevelopment. In the UK, the largest proportion of brownfield land regeneration is to hard-end use (domestic housing or commercial developments). Opportunities for greenspace development on brownfield sites as part of private redevelopment projects have increased through the same policy agendas.

The responsibilities of the UK private development industry for public greenspace provision stem from policies such as:

In the context of establishing greenspace on brownfield land, planning obligations (section 106 agreements) can be negotiated as part of the development planning application. Section 106 agreements are intended to make a development acceptable in planning terms that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Planning obligations can be used for the provision of greenspace as well as site reclamation, and can be used for pooled contributions from developers towards establishing greenspace at the regeneration site or off-site (at a different location).

Planning Policy Statement 9: Biodiversity and Geological Conservation

This policy sets out national guidance on protection of biodiversity and geological conservation through the planning system in England, including its contribution to urban renaissance by enhancing greenspaces among developments so that they are used by wildlife and valued by people.

The planning objectives are intended to conserve, enhance and restore the diversity of England’s wildlife, to recognise that healthy, functional ecosystems can contribute to a better quality of life, and to ensure that developments take account of the roles and value of biodiversity. This plays a significant role in meeting international commitments for habitats, species and ecosystems.

The Planning Policy Statement: ‘Planning for a natural and healthy environment’(PDF-387K) (DCLG, 2010) states that biodiversity should be included at all planning levels, based on an understanding of designated sites.

Access standards

There are no definitive national or local standards regarding the access to greenspace. To promote the provision of urban greenspace, some organisations have called for, or established, standards of access to greenspace for urban dwellers.

  • Natural England’s urban greenspace standards provide benchmarks for ensuring access to places of wildlife interest. These standards recommend that people living in towns and cities should have an accessible natural greenspace less than 300 metres (5 minutes’ walk) from home; statutory local nature reserves at a minimum of 1 ha per 1000 population; at least one accessible 20 ha site within 2 km of home; one accessible 100 ha site within 5 km of home; and one accessible 500 ha site within 10 km of home.
  • Accessible Natural Greenspace in Towns and Cities (PDF-2030K) (English Nature Research Report No. 153), report was published in 1995 by English Nature (now Natural England) calling for a standard of 2 ha of accessible natural green space per 1000 people.
  • The Woodland Trust’s woodland access standards (PDF-331K) stipulate that no person should live more than 500 m from at least one area of accessible woodland of no less than 2 ha, and there should be at least one area of accessible woodland of no less than 20 ha within 4 km from home.
  • Rethinking Open Space – Open Space Provision And Management: A Way Forward (PDF-1560K) was published by The Scottish Executive’s Central Research Unit and called for 2 ha of amenity green space per 1000 population.
  • The National Playing Fields Association (now Fields in Trust) promoted a ‘six-acre standard’ – 2 acres (0.8 ha) of playing spaces per 1000 population (sometimes this standard has been extended by adding an extra acre (0.41 ha) per 1000 population in residential areas). This guidance was last updated in 2001 and is currently being re-drafted.

While economic pressures favour alternative land uses to greenspace, development will always present a threat. Standards have a role in guiding provision of greenspaces, but urban planning policy instruments are needed to seek balance in provision, distribution and design.

Use of a greenspace by local communities demonstrates demand. However, sites that are not appropriately funded for management and maintenance will decline in quality and so in their appeal to users. Commitment by owners to providing quality greenspace will realise the many social benefits, including inclusion of users, social cohesion, improved health and education. Where management of a greenspace is fragmented, as it is with many local authorities, quality can suffer and strategic vision may be undermined.

Case studies

Competing demands – housing provision or urban greenspace?

Tower Hamlets is an inner-city east London borough with a target of 42,000 new homes by 2016 (part of the Mayor of London’s London Plan). Some of the new housing can be achieved by redeveloping existing housing blocks, but there is also pressure on existing open space and amenity land. The open space-to-population ratio in the borough in was 1.2 ha per 1000 population in 2005. If this ratio is to be maintained, at least 29 ha of new open space will be required together with the new housing over the next 10 years.

The Council has declared its intention that, as a minimum, there will be no overall loss of green play or recreational space on new housing sites, and that existing sites must be improved. But with such ambitious building plans in a limited space, some tensions were bound to surface from these competing demands.

Weavers Fields is a large public open space in Tower Hamlets. It has large areas of amenity grassland, shrubs around the perimeter, scrub and semi-improved neutral grassland. Mature trees include horse chestnut, ash, rowan and hawthorn. Planted tree species include goat, crack and osier willow, aspen, silver birch and wild cherry. Informal paths meander through the area and give it a feeling of being much larger. The area is valuable for birds and invertebrates. The park also has a fenced area for dog-walkers.

Two housing associations in Tower Hamlets applied for planning permission to enlarge a sheltered hostel for homeless young people. The proposed development site was part of Weavers Fields park. The Borough’s policy was that, in general, open-space sites such as Weavers Fields should be protected. However, the new development would help to improve the authority’s ability to house a group who find it difficult to obtain accommodation. A local community action group has formed to object to the development, on the grounds of the loss of recreational facilities and the precedent that planning approval would represent for further development encroachment on this site or other sites in the Borough. The first application for planning permission was rejected. Weavers Fields won a Green Flag Award again for 2007/08.

Example of a greenspace strategy

The Thames Gateway strategy document Creating Sustainable Communities: Greening the Gateway outlined a high-level approach to the environment, into which detailed local strategies and action plans would fit. It provided a clear indication of how greening the Thames Gateway could help in delivering sustainable communities. It set out the Government’s vision for the landscape of the Thames Gateway, and the positive contribution that the network of green open spaces should make to the quality of life of all those who live and work there.

The document promoted an environmental infrastructure including shelter, a setting for development (commercial, industrial or new housing opportunities), landscape character, heritage, improved air quality, water resource management, waste management, accessible wildlife, increased biodiversity, recreation, health and fitness, social inclusion, education, training, employment and green routes. The strategy also established core principles for future development of advanced planning, knowledge and understanding, inclusiveness and integration, local character and distinctiveness, protection of designated sites, habitat creation, dynamic landscape change and community involvement.

Like all greenspace strategies, the Thames Gateway example contains broad aims and objectives, including generating political and interdepartmental support for parks and greenspaces; developing a shared vision and establishing clear lines of responsibility; and creating a comprehensive policy framework for the protection, enhancement, accessibility and use of parks and greenspaces. Greenspace strategies also aim to define the value and role of parks and greenspaces in meeting regional corporate and community aims, and ensure that green spaces enhance the quality and diversity of the environment and the life of local communities. A greenspace strategy should provide a framework for resource allocation that maximises funding from both internal and external funding, and creates a framework for voluntary and community groups to participate in greenspace provision and management - see the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment’s Green Space Strategies: A Good Practice Guide (PDF-1970K).


Forest Research has been establishing vegetation on brownfield sites for over 40 years, and uses this expertise along with ongoing research to provide consultancy and research services to the Forestry Commission and external clients for a wide range of applications.

Site investigation

Forest Research has extensive experience of conducting soil surveys, including soil mapping describing the chemical and physical constraints of soil resources (e.g. nutrient levels and availability, soil depth) prior to establishment of a greenspace. Accurate local information is a must for informed decision-making, planning and designing urban greenspace.


Forest Research is available to provide advice and recommendations on the selection of vegetation species and ground preparation for successful greenspace establishment. Species recommendations are made on the basis of local conditions and site objectives.


Forest Research will conduct research into techniques for the sustainable establishment of urban greenspaces and associated habitats, including development of best practice. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with interested parties.

Further information

Forest Research Best Practice Guidance

Foot, K. and Sinnett, D. (2006). Do You Need to Cultivate before Woodland Establishment? (PDF-291K) Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 3. Forest Research, Farnham.

Foot, K. and Sinnett, D. (2006). Imported Soil or Soil-Forming Materials Placement (PDF-191K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 5.  Forest Research, Farnham.

van Herwijnen, R. and Hutchings. A. (2006). Laboratory Analysis of Soils and Spoils (PDF-294K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 2. Forest Research, Farnham.

Hutchings, A, Sinnett, D. and Doick, K. (2006). Soil Sampling Derelict, Underused and Neglected Land prior to Greenspace Establishment (PDF-956K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 1. Forest Research, Farnham.

Kilbride, C. (2006) Application of Sewage Sludges and Composts (PDF-317K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 6. Forest Research, Farnham.

Sellers, G. (2006). Fertiliser Application in Land Regeneration (PDF-447K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 7. Forest Research, Farnham.

Sellers, G. (2006). Weed Control (PDF-414K). Best Practice Guidance for Land Regeneration, BPG Note 11.  Forest Research, Farnham.

Other resources

DCLG (2002). Planning Policy Guidance 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation. Department of Communities and Local Government. Stationery Office, London.

DCLG (2004). Planning Policy Guidance 12: Local Development Frameworks. Department of Communities and Local Government. Stationery Office, London.

DCLG (2010). Planning for a natural and healthy environment. Planning policy statement consultation paper. Department of Communities and Local Government. Stationery Office, London.

DCLG (2005). Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development. Department of Communities and Local Government. Stationery Office, London.

DCLG (2006). Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing. Department of Communities and Local Government. Stationery Office, London.

ODPM (2006). Enhancing Urban Green Space (PDF-796K). National Audit Office/Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Stationery Office, London.