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Government needs to honour pledge to protect the Green Belt

Monday, 27 August 2012 00:00

Under threat: Green Belt near Reigate Under threat: Green Belt near Reigate © Sarah West

A new briefing and map published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) highlights major new threats to England’s Green Belts.

The threats include proposals for over 80,000 new houses, new roads, open cast coal mines, airport expansion, golf courses and industrial parks – amounting to the development of a new town greater than the size of Slough over the next twenty years [1].

The publication of the map and briefing paper comes two years after the Government’s pledge to ‘maintain protection of the Green Belt’.

Download: The Green Belt Threats map (http://bit.ly/TS77q4 or without text: http://bit.ly/Pb8ihc) and Green Belts briefing (http://bit.ly/NErJyW) which includes detailed local case study examples.

In July 2010 Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that he would abolish regional planning, so that local people could better protect Green Belts around towns and cities across the country [2]. However, CPRE has found that, two years on, the level of threat remains. 

New national planning policies require local authorities to allocate more than five years’ worth of building land for new housing [3]. In many cases it appears that Government Planning Inspectors are putting pressure on local authorities to allow building in the Green Belt to meet this requirement. Government plans to reduce further national planning guidance could lead to Ministers no longer scrutinising major proposals for development in the Green Belt [4].

Paul Miner, Senior Planning Officer for CPRE, says: “The Green Belt is the most popular planning policy in England and the envy of the world. It helps regenerate our cities and stops them sprawling into rural areas. As a result, no one is ever too far from true, green English countryside.

“In times of economic slowdown, politicians can sometimes be tempted by the false promise of an easy construction boom. But destroying the countryside is not the path to lasting economic prosperity.  Sustainable economic improvement can only come from the sort of urban regeneration that has already done much to rejuvenate many of our largest cities.”

Building on the Green Belt is often justified by claiming that there is a shortage of other land available for development, such as previously developed ‘brownfield’ land. However, Government figures show that the amount of brownfield land becoming available for re-development is far outstripping the rate at which it is being used and there is enough available for 1.5 million new homes [5].

It is vital that the Government steps in to ensure ‘smart growth’, which focuses investment and development within existing urban areas, rather than allowing the unnecessary loss of Green Belt land [6].

Local authorities should set housing targets consistent with local need, protecting the Green Belt and regenerating brownfield land, rather than relying on unrealistically high requirements once imposed by regional plans.

Above all, Ministers should stick to their commitments to protect the Green Belt, including by actively monitoring major planning applications in the Green Belt as well as the proportion of new housing on brownfield sites.

Paul Miner concluded: “Ministers have consistently maintained that they value the Green Belt and want to see it protected. Now is the time to put these words into action.” 

CPRE is today also publishing a new campaign guide which is aimed at helping local people to protect the Green Belt. The campaign guide explains the key aspects of the new national planning policy, cuts through the jargon of local plan reviews and developer proposals, and provides key campaigning tips [7].

CPRE is encouraging people to write to Eric Pickles and ask him to stand up for the Green Belt: http://bit.ly/NDoSKY

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Green Belt facts:

  • England’s Green Belts covers 1,619,835 hectares (6254 square miles), a total of 12.4 per cent of England’s total landscape.
  • Green Belts include: 250,000 hectares (ha) of our finest farmland; 89,000 ha of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs); and 220,000 ha of broadleaf / mixed woodland.
  • Green Belts contain 41% of the area covered by England’s Community Forests.
  • The introduction of Green Belts was the culmination of years of campaigning by CPRE following our establishment in 1926. The first Green Belt was around London and was proposed in Patrick Abercrombie’s 1944 Greater London Plan, made possible by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, and finalised in 1958.
  • Green Belts are a planning policy designation with five primary purposes: to stop urban sprawl; prevent ‘coalescence’ (or joining together) of settlements; safeguard the countryside from encroachment; protect the setting of historic towns; and encourage urban regeneration and the reuse of brownfield land.
  • Most forms of development are classed as ‘inappropriate’ in the Green Belt. Furthermore, the NPPF ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ does not apply in Green Belt areas.
  • In England there is sufficient brownfield land available and suitable for 1,494,070 new dwellings, and much more on top of this suitable for business or industrial development. In Northern regions (the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East) there is enough brownfield land for over 444,000 new homes. Even in the South East, where housing demand is highest, land supply outpaces demand with one quarter (26 per cent) of suitable brownfield plots going unused.

Notes to Editors
[1] This survey of Green Belt threats is not intended to be comprehensive. It includes a selection of significant cases notified by CPRE branches and members. We believe Government should provide a full national analysis and act accordingly. 
[2] See Department for Communities and Local Government press release, ‘Eric Pickles puts stop to flawed Regional Strategies today’, 6 July 2010.
[3] The National Planning Policy Framework, 27 March 2012: http://bit.ly/LJdHuI
[4] See Department for Communities and Local Government press release, ‘Next steps to improve the planning system and support sustainable development’, 3 July 2012.
[5] Campaign to Protect Rural England, ‘Building in a small island: Why we still need the brownfield first approach’, November 2011
[6] Smart growth is explained at www.smartgrowthuk.org/
[7] The new briefing is available from www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/planning/item/download/2176
[8] CPRE has quotes from MPs supporting the Green Belt and/or protection of the countryside, and who represent the following areas where the Green Belt is under threat (details are available from the CPRE press office): Bath, Bromsgrove, Broxtowe (Nottinghamshire), Chester, Christchurch, Dewsbury, Hexham, Kenilworth, Leeds, Mole Valley (Surrey), Newcastle upon Tyne, Reigate, St Albans, Solihull, Warwick.

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