CPRE’s Growing Greenbelt Fears Unfounded?

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Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) yesterday released figures to suggest that 275,000 homes are proposed on England’s green belt land, an increase of 50,000 over the CPRE’s figures from last year.

Their report states that across the country (in all but one region of England), an increasing number of houses are planned, with particular pressure on the Metropolitan green belt around London, as houses planned in this area have more than tripled since August 2013.

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at CPRE, said: “Councils are increasingly eroding the green belt to meet unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets. We need stronger protection for the green belt, not just supportive words and empty promises.

“To build the affordable homes young people and families need, the government should empower councils to prioritise the use of brownfield sites. Brownfield land is a self-renewing resource that can provide at least 1 million new homes.”

Development on brownfield land has always been seen as the preference by successive governments, and is something that Brandon Lewis MP, Minister of State for Housing & Planning, was advocating on twitter yesterday afternoon in reply to Shaun Spiers, CPRE’s Chief Executive. He said that “Greenbelt protection is clear in Govt guidance & planning rules plus our emphasis on brownfield. Planning is now locally led.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman also highlighted that: “There are no plans or policy to relax the strong protections that prevent inappropriate development on the green belt.

“Ministers have repeatedly been clear that demand for housing alone will not justify changing green belt boundaries. Councils are already expected to prioritise development on brownfield sites with 90 per cent of brownfield sites expected to have planning permission by the end of this parliament.

“It means that in 2014/15 just 0.02 per cent of green belt was converted to residential use, and the green belt is actually 32,000 hectares bigger than it was in 1997.”

Several commentators have also cast doubt on CPRE’s headline figure of 275,000.  There has been a sharp increase in development in the green belt in the last five years, but not necessarily at the scale suggested by campaigners. Research by consultancy Glenigan in June 2015 shows that in 2009/10, 2,258 homes were granted planning permission and that by 2014/2015, it had risen to 11,977. Whilst a five-fold increase is certainly a large jump, it is no where close to CPRE’s figure of 275,000.

CPRE’s main concern centres on Local Plans, which put forward potential areas of suitable development within a Local Authority. These outline policies by no means grant blank approval to developers, who still need to go through the full planning process to secure consent to develop on Green Belt locations. In many cases across the country, they would still face the formidable members of Planning Committees, who are usually staunch advocates for and protectors of their cherished green belt.

Despite CPRE’s dire warning, it would be very  surprising indeed to see large swathes of green belt being granted permission for development, particularly in areas just outside the London fringe such as Thurrock, who pride themselves on their green parcels.  Whilst CPRE’s latest announcement has prompted plenty of doom-mongering, reports of the green belt’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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