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
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.