Last week CPRE research revealed that at least 275,000 houses are planned for England’s Green Belt. This concerning figure is 25% more than last year and almost 200,000 more than in 2012, when the Government introduced its new planning policy - the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
275,000 houses on Green Belt? The tip of the iceberg
Some commentators have sought to challenge the CPRE data – which they are of course entitled to do - arguing that crowdsourced information is an unreliable indicator of Green Belt ‘threat’. It has also been suggested that the real number of homes being built on the Green Belt is around 12,000, as according to research conducted by consultants Glenigan for the BBC last year.
As the report outlines, our 275,000 figure was calculated by collating figures provided by local CPRE planning contacts - paid or volunteer experts who spend their lives unenviably immersed in local planning issues. While they did an exceptional job providing us with data, we do not claim that our final tally is definitive or complete. We know that we haven't covered all local plans, future or emerging, and we probably haven't picked up every Green Belt proposal in existing local plans either. We will make slight adjustments to this data over the next few weeks as we receive more information.
However, nor do we claim that this number of homes are being built, right now, on Green Belt land, by Government-sponsored diggers personally manned by a hard-hatted George Osborne. Our data shows that local plans are proposing to release sites under “exceptional circumstances” for at least 275,000 homes from the Green Belt in order to build houses. Due to the nature of planning regulations, when what is currently identified as Green Belt comes to be built on, it won't be Green Belt any more.
And that explains why any identification of 12,000 homes is in fact a signifier of an even greater threat, rather than a far smaller one. Those 12,000 homes in one year are those being given planning permission in the Green Belt, often outside of local plans, rather than on Green Belt sites marked for de-designation in local plans. (And the 12,000 is in itself a five-fold increase on the level of development permitted five years earlier.)
So, in effect, the actual threat to the Green Belt is 275,000 homes estimated in current and emerging local plans; plus any in plans that come forward over the next few years; plus any that were proposed in existing plans before 2012 that we haven't taken into account yet; plus those that we have missed; plus the 12,000 (and increasing) homes per year that are granted on Green Belt land not accounted for in local plans – because they are either outside the plan or there is currently no plan for them to be outside of.
The result? There are not going to be 275,000 new homes on England's Green Belt. There are going to be far, far more – despite there still being plenty of potential to build more on brownfield sites within our large towns and cities.