Don’t de­stroy the green belt, Mr Javid

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

We are be­ing promised a hous­ing White Pa­per on a daily ba­sis and one is­sue it’s bound to cover is the sta­tus of the green belt. As houses that are near to towns, but are in the coun­try­side com­mand a premium and it’s eas­ier to build on vir­gin sites, the big, too pow­er­ful house builders lust after it. Only last week, Nigel Wil­son, Chief ex­ec­u­tive of Le­gal & Gen­eral, ar­gued for the re­lease of 1% of the green belt to build a mil­lion new homes —if that hap­pened ev­ery year, there would be no green belt left in a cen­tury.

Our ad­vice to Sa­jid Javid, the Sec­re­tary of State con­cerned, is to be care­ful. Plan­ning has not al­ways had a glo­ri­ous his­tory, but the green-belt pol­icy is one that peo­ple un­der­stand. It’s so in­grained in the na­tional psy­che that many com­men­ta­tors who should know bet­ter re­fer to green-belt de­vel­op­ment when what they re­ally mean is any build­ing in open coun­try­side. It works— and it’s now more rel­e­vant than ever.

Green-belt pol­icy was es­tab­lished in 1955 to pre­vent the ur­ban sprawl that dis­fig­ured ru­ral ar­eas in the 1920s and 1930s; it now cov­ers 13% of eng­land. Given that eng­land has be­come so densely pop­u­lated, one can only marvel at its achieve­ment in pre­vent­ing cities such as Southamp­ton and Portsmouth from merg­ing into blob-like conur­ba­tions. It has sought to ring-fence ur­ban de­vel­op­ment so that it’s dis­tinct from the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

No pol­icy that’s 62 years old can be im­mune from crit­i­cism; his­tor­i­cally, the des­ig­na­tion has not been ap­plied con­sis­tently and to­day’s ex­pec­ta­tions are far greater. When peo­ple are pre­pared to com­mute to Lon­don from as far as Cam­bridge or the south coast, the whole of the South­east can be re­garded, in plan­ning terms, as part of the cap­i­tal. As a re­sult, de­vel­op­ment jumps the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Green Belt; not per­mit­ted within the cor­don san­i­taire, it mul­ti­plies, bacil­lus-like, out­side.

Re­mem­ber, too, that city life is far more at­trac­tive than in the days of heavy in­dus­try and smog. Com­mut­ing is go­ing out of fash­ion; fewer young peo­ple bother to pass their driv­ing test be­cause they don’t live the dis­persed lives their par­ents did.

Na­ture’s calm­ing in­flu­ence be­comes all the more im­por­tant in th­ese hec­tic times. With­out the re­stric­tion of the green belt, those places that have been made ugly by de­funct in­dus­try or re­tail parks wouldn’t be re­de­vel­oped.

Rather than tin­ker­ing with the green belt, we should rekin­dle the kind of vi­sion that led to the post-sec­ond World War new towns, of which the last, Mil­ton Keynes— ad­mit­tedly not a thing of beauty—is cel­e­brat­ing its 50th an­niver­sary.

We’ve surely learnt that de­vel­op­ment works best when it’s con­cen­trated, cre­at­ing ‘walk­a­ble’ com­mu­ni­ties. Alas, how­ever, we cur­rently have no land-use strat­egy for a crowded eng­land and the coun­try­side dies by 1,000 cuts.

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