Friday, 10 August 2018

Time to tighten the Green Belt?

In our green and pleasant land the question must be asked. Is it time to tighten the Green Belt? So as to protection the countryside not just for our generation but also for the generations to come.

In a recent article, Laura Edgar of the Planner wrote:

‘Strategic shrinking’ of green belt as harmful as building on it, says CPRE
Reviewing green belt boundaries as part of the local plan process should only take place in exceptional circumstances – but this ‘strategic shrinking’ of the green belt is as ‘harmful’ as building on it, according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The campaign group’s annual State of the Green Belt report says there are currently 460,000 homes being planned that would be built on greenfield land that will soon be released from the green belt – or has been designated in local plans.

Of those houses planned for green belt land, CPRE says only 27 per cent meet the government’s definition of affordable.

Furthermore, according to the report, local authorities with green belt land have enough brownfield land for more than 720,000 homes and therefore “there is no reason for them not to be prioritising brownfield development”.

Because “one-third” of local authorities with green belt land face increased housing targets as a result of the new method for calculating housing demand laid out in the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) published in July, the release of green belt land is set to continue, says CPRE.

The London Metropolitan Green Belt will be the “biggest casualty”.

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the CPRE, said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they sell off and gobble up the green belt to build low-density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live. The affordable housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency, while acknowledging that far from providing the solution, building on the green belt only serves to entrench the issue.”

The government, Fyans continued, is “failing” in its commitment to protect the green belt, which is being “eroded at an alarming rate”.

It is “essential, if the green belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and green belt protection strengthened”.

The report features a number of recommendations, including:

National and local planning policies and decision should recognise the green belt’s wide variety of benefits, but focus on ensuring that they continue to fulfil their purpose by:
- Following through on commitments to strengthen the exceptional circumstances test by prioritising brownfield sites within the revised NPPF.

- Committing to establishing long-term green belt boundaries, to be reviewed no more than every 15 years.

National government should develop clear guidance for local authorities on housing requirements to protect designated land and support the creation of new green belts where local authorities have established a clear need for them.
Katherine Evans, partner at law firm TLT, said: “The latest statistics show that green belt land saw a decrease of less than 0.05 per cent in 2016-2017.

"Despite what the name suggests the reality is that little of the green belt is valued for its landscape and some is already developed for a multitude of purposes."

The CPRE likes to characterise the green belt as ‘countryside next door’ but the reality is that little of the green belt is valued for its landscape and some is already developed for a multitude of purposes.”

Evans highlighted that the revised NPPF makes it clear that green belt boundaries should only be altered where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, while a planning authority must be able to demonstrate that it has fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting its identified need for development.

“Extensions to boundaries and building on the green belt are only likely where the local authority has already made use of suitable brownfield sites and underutilised land, optimised the density of development on existing land set aside for housing or has reached an agreement with a neighbouring local authority in order to take on some of its housing needs.

“While building more homes to tackle the housing crisis is one of the government’s main priorities, it is quite clear from the revised NPPF that this is not to be at the expense of the green belt. It’s worth keeping in mind that the drive to build new homes is taking place predominantly on brownfield and urban sites."

The National Community Land Trusts (CLT) Network highlighted that the CPRE report found that only 990 of the 7,600 homes rural communities need were built last year. To date, 840 CLT homes have been built, predominantly in rural areas.

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trusts (CLT) Network, said: “Community Land Trusts are thriving in rural areas. This is because local people have recognised them as a way to build the affordable homes that local people can actually afford, rather than more expensive homes.

“Many rural communities are coming up against school and shop closures that are threatening local life. The need for affordable housing has never been more serious. While many local authorities and parish councils are supporting CLTs to form and develop, we would like to see this going further.

“With local governments working with groups to find land there’s no reason why CLTs couldn’t help build the annual quota of rural homes needed.”

The State of the Green Belt report can be found on the CPRE website.

So what does this tell us? Our we about to loose our countryside?

The following is from The Week, whose late owner Felix Dennis was very fond of the countryside:

Why England’s green belt is disappearing at ‘alarming rate’

Housing applications for protected areas hits record 460,000 following relaxation of planning laws

Campaigners say most housing built on England’s green belts is unaffordable for first-time buyers

The UK’s green belt is disappearing at an “alarming rate” as the Government strives to meet targets for new homes, a new report has warned.

However, only 22% of the planned developments meet the Government’s definition of “affordable”. Tom Fyans, director of policy at CPRE, has accused developers of “misleading the public” over a perceived necessity to build on the green belt in order to help families get on the housing ladder, Sky News reports.

“The affordable housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency, while acknowledging that far from providing the solution, building on the green belt only serves to entrench the issue,” Fyans said.

What is England’s green belt?
The green belt programme was rolled out during the post-WWII urban boom, in order to “stop cities from sprawling and countryside being spoilt”, the BBC says.

Around 13% of English land - some four million acres - is currently covered by green belt regulations, including “scenic sites open to the public, such as the Chiltern Hills and North Downs”, the broadcaster adds.

England has a total of 14 designated green belt areas, which surround urban areas including London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. These special sites are meant to be permanently protected and are only reviewed in exceptional circumstances. 

By contrast, brownfield sites - land that has previously been developed - are often on disused or derelict land, but are often more expensive to build on as the land must first be cleared.

Why is the green belt disappearing?
“As recently as 2010-11, there was no net loss of green belt land in England, but the introduction of a new National Planning Policy Framework in 2012 heralded the start of a sudden erosion of the green belt,” The Daily Telegraph reports.

In the subsequent years up until 2017, 11,960 acres of green belt was lost - the equivalent of around 5,000 football pitches. A total of 37 local authorities have redesignated green belt land for development in the past six years, the newspaper adds.

Applications to build an additional 35,000 homes on green belt land were submitted last year alone.

However, the CPRE estimates that local authorities with green belt areas have enough brownfield land for more than 720,000 homes.

Why are campaigners angry?
Campaigners are unhappy that the Government is not utilising the full potential on the country’s alleged one million brownfield housing sites.

Although more than half of the housing development to date has been on these brownfield sites, campaigners say the “vast majority of homes constructed on greenfield green belt land is in higher price brackets unattainable to most buyers”, The Guardian reports.

“Only 27% of homes built or approved on greenfield land since 2009 fitted the Government’s definition of affordable housing,” the newspaper says.

CPRE policy director Fyans said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they gobble up the green belt to build low density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live.

“The Government is failing in its commitment to protect the green belt – it is being eroded at an alarming rate. But it is essential, if the green belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and green belt protection strengthened.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing responded: “We are clear that building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up our countryside.

“Last year the number of new homes built was the highest in a decade and only 0.02% of the green belt was developed for residential use.

“We are adding more certainty to the planning system, and our rule book strengthens national protections for the green belt and says that councils may only alter boundaries in exceptional circumstances once they have looked at all other options.”

Whatever the outcome it will require some truly radical thinking to solve the problem.