FOPM has been given to understand that Hillingdon Council officers believed double designation – making an area a Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) while retaining it within the council’s Green Chain would impair the intended protection.
They argue that prospective developers might argue that they only need to pass the lower standard – despite dual designation already applied to several other important sites within Hillingdon. But of MOL and Green Chain designations, one is not necessarily weaker than the other – MOL serves as a regional benchmark, while Green Chain addresses local issues through specifically tailored conditions.
Dual designation is not only envisaged in the London Plan, but is already used by a number of other London boroughs. Green Chain might be a locally derived designation but much of the land used is already Green Belt or MOL.
Green Chain designation at least as defined prior to the council’s current proposed changes, has proved robust enough in practice to ward off inappropriate development as in the case of the recent hockey club case.
Metropolitan Open Land is a designation that is used only within London and offers the same level of protection as a Metropolitan Green Belt. This designation is intended to protect areas of landscape, recreation, nature conservation and scientific interest which are strategically important.
Consequently, any development of any kind on MOL must only both requires the concurrence of the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for communities and local government.
The Green Chain designation has come into use largely through initiatives by individual London boroughs to define and protect local amenities such as the Celadine Walk from Pinner to Cowley which starts in Harrow and traverses the length of Hillingdon, or the South East London Green Chain which protects a walk through Bexley, Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich.
Conditions specified by the Green Chain status vary from borough to borough. Successor reports were Hillingdon Council such as the 2011 greenbelt major developed sites assessment have recommended that areas forming links in green chains should be included in the Green Belt.
The London Plan states that the MOL designation protects strategically important open spaces within the built environment. Although MOL may vary in size and primary function in different parts of London, it should be of strategic significance for example by serving a wide catchment area or drawing visitors from several boroughs.
The presumption against inappropriate development which applies to the Green Belt applies equally to the MOL.
London Plan policy 7.17 stipulates the criteria to be applied for boroughs to designate lines as M OL.
- It contributes to the physical structure of London by being clearly distinguishable from the built-up area
- It includes open air facilities especially for leisure, recreation, sport, the arts and cultural activities which serve either the whole or significant parts of London
- It contains features or landscapes (historic, recreational, biodiversity) of either national or metropolitan value
- It forms part of the green chain or a link in the network of green infrastructure meets one of the above criteria.
The London Plan also refers to Green Chains and states that they are important to London’s open space network, recreation and biodiversity. They consist of footpaths and the open spaces that they link, which are accessible to the public.
Because of their London-wide significance, the London policy plan also advises that green chains and links within them are designated MOL.
Where a Green Chain associated open space does not fulfil the above criteria would normally remain designated as a Green Chain, with its locally defined conditions.
A briefing document from the London Borough of Southwark reports that its Green Chain sites are protected as MOL through their borough plan, and notes that Bromley, Bexley and Greenwich and Lewisham have Green Chain policies currently in the process of being updated.
The Metropolitan Green Belt was the first such area of protected open land to be mooted in the United Kingdom by the Greater London regional planning committee in 1935. The Green Belt (London and the Home Counties) Act 1938 permitted local authorities around London to purchase land to be protected as open space and enter into covenants with landowners the open spaces would not be given over to development.
The Town & Country Planning Act 1947 permitted local authorities to designate areas to be protected as part of the Green Belt within their development plans.