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Green Belt and Braces
by Zak Deakin
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The proportion of new homes built in Green Belt land doubled between 2015/16 and 2016/17 as was widely reported this last week. The MHCLG figures show that four percent of new homes were built on the Green Belt, compared to two percent the previous year. While new homes built on previously developed, or brownfield, land fell by five percent to 56%.
Both the anti- and pro-Green Belt release campaigns will seize on these figures to justify their own positions of creep into the Green Belt or justification for greater release, especially ahead of the National Planning Policy Framework Review’s publication. Organisations, such as CPRE, have been calling for tighter restrictions whilst the pro-release voices will point to the need for a constructive conversation on a more structured approach to Green Belt.
Evidence of the sensitivities and flashpoints on Green Belt were picked up in the recent Raynsford Review. It highlights that there is a fundamental misunderstanding being driven by a lack of knowledge and confusion about what the planning system is trying to achieve. The public perception of a Green Belt being a static entity to be protected at all costs against the realities of why Green Belt exists. This clash being a real source of tension.
Oversimplified arguments do not help the situation. Take for example the CPRE’s recent analysis ‘State of Brownfield 2018’ in which they claim brownfield holds the key to solving the housing crisis. When in reality there is a three-year land supply which would be exhausted by 2022.
As for misunderstandings. Green Belt conjures up images of the glorious green open space of the British countryside. Yet, Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden paints a starkly different picture of Green Belt being staunchly defended. One in which storage sites, old industrial land and car parks are still considered as Green Belt, preventing the building of new homes despite these being precisely the types of sites that most people would like to see developed.
We still await any announcement from Government as to whether it is going to back a radical solution to fixing the housing crisis and to build the economic facilities and infrastructure the country needs to thrive.
Now more than ever we need politicians to be brave and broach what has traditionally been a difficult conversation if they are to deliver a planning system which is clear in its aims, avoids the misconceptions that have brought us to this current juncture and produces the types of development that people and the country’s economy needs.