On Tuesday 6th October, our Nick Woolley travelled to the Birmingham NEC for UK Construction week to take part in the Keynote Debate on the inevitability of building on the Green Belt, alongside Paul Miner – Senior Planning Officer of CPRE, Neil Hudson – Associate Director of Savills and Vincent Goodstat – Chair of the Policy, Practice and Research Committee of the RTPI.

Nick stressed that the conceptual basis for greenbelt goes back to Ebenezer Howard’s 1890’s vision of rural belts around Garden Cities “this principle of always preserving a belt of country round our cities….till, in course of time, we should have a cluster of cities….so grouped around a Central City that each inhabitant of the whole group, though in one sense of living in a town of small size, would be in reality living in, and enjoy all the advantages of, a great and most beautiful city; and yet all the fresh delights of the country- field, hedgerow and woodland – not prim parks and gardens merely – would be within a few minutes’ walk or ride”.

Nick added that, to him, perhaps its most important characteristic was its permanence. According to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the green belt serves five purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
  • to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

By preventing towns and cities from growing organically at their margins, green belts can result in more land-extensive housing developments further out – communities with lower building densities, their own built infrastructure and other facilities, and greater dependence on cars and commuting back to the main city.

At the 50th anniversary of the Town and Country Planning Association, Director Gideon Amos said:

…….too much green belt has now become a derelict wasteland of rubbish dumps and abandoned buildings – it’s time to turn green belts into eco belts fulfilling a whole range of functions that will support a more sustainable way of living for our people and the environment. Instead of being treated as a derelict buffer zone between town and country, the emphasis should be on making this land truly green and pleasant.

Nick stressed that what was clear was that the planning goal posts had moved. We now have to masterplan sustainably. There has to be better use of land and less need to travel, especially by car. There is a real need for more flexible ideas. As with biodiversity offsets where greenbelt land has to be taken we need to find effective ways of replacing it permanently elsewhere and/or restoring unsightly existing greenbelt land to better enhance the area.

Essential new development will almost inevitably impact on small areas of greenbelt in some places, but must be considered strictly on a case by case basis when strategically master planning the overall needs of an enlarging city or town.

We must not be ruled by sacred cows!

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