Scottish Green Belts Alliance

Circular 24/1985 on green belts

This is reproduced from the Executive web site at

Also see 2004 research on green belts
and 04/05 Exec review of green belts

Circular No. 24/1985

New St Andrew's House Edinburgh EH1 3SZ

Previous Circular Cancelled DHS Circular 40/1960
Our Reference
Date 2 September 1985

The Chief Executive
Regional, Islands and District Councils

Dear Sir


  1. This Circular and annex restate the policy in respect of development in the countryside and green belts and update guidance given in DHS Circular 40/1960 which is now cancelled.


  1. The Secretary of State believes that the policy and guidance set out in DHS Circular 40/1960, which has commanded widespread acceptance over the last 25 years, has been of great importance in establishing a generally accepted control of development of Scottish countryside, but recognises that changes during these years makes a restatement of the policy and updating of the guidance appropriate. Green belts have become under increasing pressure; the countryside beyond green belts is now more accessible for residence, employment and leisure; and the types of development required or proposed are more varied than new houses with which Circular 40/1960 was mainly concerned. In addition, new non-traditional activities are making an important contribution to the rural economy, and there is a need to encourage the use of local resources and new economic activities.

Development in the Countryside

  1. The policy on development in the countryside continues to be founded on the following propositions:-
  1. Existing settlements are more likely to be able to accommodate additional development with least servicing costs and minimum impact on agriculture and amenity generally. Development should therefore be encouraged on suitable sites in existing settlements.
  2. Urban sprawl and, in particular, the coalescence of settlements, and ribbon development should be avoided.
  3. Isolated development should be discouraged in the open countryside, except where:-
  1. circumstances are clearly identified in development plans, including where a dispersed pattern of housing might be appropriate in more remote areas (see following paragraphs); or
  2. there are special needs, e.g. the nature of employment requires residence in a particular location.
  1. Changing circumstances, notably the depopulation in some rural areas particularly remote from towns arising in part from altered agricultural practices, have, however, increased the importance of maintaining the viability of the affected communities. This has led some planning authorities to make greater use of the flexibility which has always been a feature of the policy by identifying in development plans opportunities for development which support the rural economy. The Secretary of State has approved structure plans which identify such opportunities and will continue to do so where there are special needs and circumstances and where structure plans contain sufficient justification and policies to meet them. Such structure plans should define the general circumstances and criteria for areas within which well designed and well located development, which does not affect land that is important for the maintenance of agriculture, damage the scenic or nature conservation interest of the land, or make undue demands on public services, can be successfully merged into open countryside.
  2. It is important that the public should be aware of the planning authority's policy as it affects any area in which these special needs and circumstances apply. Local plans should be as specific as possible in defining any areas in which development in the open countryside may be favoured and in setting out any special conditions that may apply in these areas. Where existing local plans provide for such exceptions only in general terms, the Secretary of State urges the authorities concerned to take the first available opportunity of amplifying the statements in their local plans so as to give clear advice to prospective developers about how, why and where the authority are proposing that development may take place and about any special conditions which are likely to be applied in those areas.

Green Belts

  1. The Secretary of State attaches great importance to the need to preserve the existing designated green belts and to the need to establish confidence in their permanence. Development within designated green belts should continue to be strictly controlled. Prospects for the achievement of these objectives can best be enhanced by the incorporation of appropriate control policies in development plans. Structure plans should describe the strategic context and general location for green belts and set out the development control policies which apply to them. Local plans should define the precise boundaries of any green belt within the area covered by the plan. It is inappropriate, however, for local plans to establish green belts unless the structure plan has provided the strategic context for this.
  2. Stability and endurance of green belt policies can be expected only where a balance between the containment and growth of urban development can be sustained on a long term basis. Authorities should review green belt policies in structure plans in the light of the need to achieve this balance and, in doing so, should relate the demand for all forms of development to a long term settlement strategy for the structure plan area, taking a realistic view of all the locations where the demand can be met. In undertaking such reviews authorities should seek to identify land on the inner boundaries of green belts and within settlements in green belts which is no longer making any significant contribution to the purposes for which the green belt in question was established, and consider whether that land ought to be earmarked for development, thereby helping to maintain the long term integrity of the green belt by relieving pressure on other more significant areas. As regards towns and villages within green belts consideration should be given to identifying the scope for the development of infill sites, and for bringing into use previously developed land that is lying derelict, and has little or no inherent agricultural value or value for green belt purposes. Where it is concluded that it would not be appropriate to release land so identified for development, consideration should be given to means whereby it might be improved with the aim of restoring its value as a green belt component. At the same time authorities should seek to give support to their green belt policies by ensuring that derelict, vacant and underused sites within the urban area, including sites in their ownership for which they have no use or which they have no prospect of being able to develop within a reasonable period, are readily available in sufficient quantity to meet developers' needs for such land.
  3. The findings of any review of green belt policies should be incorporated in a structure plan alteration at the earliest possible opportunity. Once such an alteration has been approved, adopted local plans covering parts of the relevant green belt should, where necessary, be adjusted and the remaining local plans required to complete the definition of green belt boundaries should be completed as soon as possible, in accordance with a programme agreed between all authorities concerned.
  4. Once the measures in paragraphs 7-8 have been completed, further adjustment of green belt policies and boundaries should be needed only in exceptional circumstances.


  1. The Secretary of State will have regard to this Circular and the attached annex in considering structure plans and structure plan alterations submitted to him for approval, in assessing planning applications notified to him, and in determining appeals against refusal of planning permission.
  2. Any enquiries about this Circular related to development in the countryside should be made to Mr J R Johnston (Ext 5404) and those related to green belts should be made to Mr C M A Lugton (Ext 4631).

Yours faithfully




  1. The growth or renewal of settlements and the development of rural resources should be properly planned and urban sprawl around towns and scattered developments in the countryside should be avoided. Development plans should therefore contain a presumption against developments which would:-
  1. have an adverse impact on the environment, landscape, heritage resources, nature conservation and agricultural land;
  2. lead to ribbon development and coalescence of settlements or sporadic development; and
  3. involve unreasonable infrastructure and servicing costs.
  1. Accordingly Development Plans should contain policies and proposals that:-
  1. identify the land (including buildings surplus to requirements) available for development within or immediately adjacent to existing settlements which involves least servicing costs and minimum impact on agriculture, nature conservation and landscape setting;
  2. indicate the special circumstances and the areas where particular types of development, redevelopment or rehabilitation could take place in the countryside and the types of condition which might be imposed on planning permissions for such developments;
  3. identify in conjunction with Government Agencies and local communities those areas where joint initiatives and investment in development would best support the rural economy and services; and
  4. indicate those areas where, because of the dispersed nature of the communities, there can be a presumption in favour of single houses in the countryside.

Green Belts

  1. In accordance with the policy set out in Circular 40/1960, green belts have been established for three main purposes:-
  1. to maintain the identity of towns by establishing a clear definition of their physical boundaries and preventing coalescence;
  2. to provide countryside for recreation or institutional purposes of various kinds; and
  3. to maintain the landscape setting of towns.
  1. Green belts have been designated where there are strong development demands on land adjacent to large towns and cities and there is a need for particular stability in the policies designed to control these demands. In these circumstances:-
  1. structure plans should set out the urban settlement structure necessary to meet the demographic, economic and social needs of the area within and outwith the city or town over the period to which the structure plan relates;
  2. outwith the areas identified in this settlement structure, development should be very strictly controlled by green belt policies and designations in structure plans;
  3. local plans should define the precise boundaries and secure the continuity of green belts. Towns and villages within green belts should not be allowed to expand beyond the limits thus established;
  4. there should be a general presumption against any intrusion into designated green belts; in particular, approval should not be given, except in very special circumstances, for the construction of new buildings and the extension or change of use of existing buildings, for purposes other than agriculture, horticulture, woodland management and recreation, or establishments and institutions standing in extensive grounds (such as wooded policies or parkland) or other uses appropriate to the rural character of the area.


  1. Structure and local plans should continue to have particular regard to the National Planning Guidelines which are relevant to development, conservation and the protection of agricultural land in the countryside.

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