Research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that 275,000 houses are now planned for England’s Green Belt, an increase of 50,000 on last year and nearly 200,000 more than when the Government introduced its planning reforms back in March 2012.
Compiled from draft and adopted local plans, the research is the latest finding to challenge the Government’s commitment to the Green Belt. Only last year Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the protection of the ‘precious’ Green Belt was ‘paramount’, reiterating the commitment made in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto.
Yet last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark decided that 1,500 new homes should be built on Green Belt between Gloucester and Cheltenham in one of the biggest developments on Green Belt for a decade . This followed proposals in the Government’s planning policy consultation to release small sites in the Green Belt for ‘starter homes’. A Government-appointed body, the ‘Local Plans Expert Group’, has also encouraged Green Belt reviews.
CPRE’s Green Belt under siege report illustrates that Green Belt boundaries are being changed to accommodate housing at the fastest rate for two decades . In the year to 2015, 11 local authorities finalised boundary changes to accommodate development. The 275,000 houses now planned are an increase of 25% on 2015, and almost double the 147,000 houses outlined for Green Belt in Labour’s 2009 regional plans. There is particular pressure in the Metropolitan and West Midlands Green Belt.
Green Belt policy is gradually being weakened through loopholes in planning guidance. Under pressure from Government to set and meet high housing targets, councils are releasing Green Belt for new development through a misappropriated ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause. At least three local authorities – Bradford, Durham and Northumberland – have claimed that economic growth justifies an ‘exceptional’ change to the Green Belt.
Green Belt designation was formally introduced in 1955 to prevent urban sprawl. Last year a poll showed widespread support for the Green Belt, with 64% of the public supporting its protection.
Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said, “Councils are increasingly eroding the Green Belt to meet unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets. The Government is proposing to encourage further development in the Green Belt. Our Green Belt is invaluable in preventing urban sprawl and providing the countryside next door for 30 million people.
“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.”