A Battle to Protect England's Countryside as Greenfield Developments Double

Far from applying the government's policy of brownfield first, the number of new houses planned for greenfield sites has doubled since reform of the planning system in England reduced protection for greenbelt land.
August 28, 2013, 6am PDT | Kat Martindale
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A report published the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has identified that 150,000 houses are to be built on protected greenbelt land across England.  This represents an increase of 84% on the previous year.  The CRPE estimates that the brownfield* land currently available would accommodate 1.5 million new houses.  The CPRE is concerned that changes to planning laws relating to greenbelt land have diminished its protection with the inclusion of a clause claiming the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.  

The CPRE is concerned that the 12.4% of England with this designation will be further eroded by the proposed High Speed 2 train line, new stations and necessary infrastructure, and the 1,000 acres to be used for warehouse and office developments, and mines.

In the article, Robert Watts highlights the scale of the loss of countryside around the Yorkshire cities of Leeds, York and Calderdale to "46,000 dwellings and 607 acres of warehouses".  Further large scale developments are planned around Birmingham, Bristol, Bath, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Epping Forest and Oxted. This accompanies larger tracts of land in the Midlands, such as Broxtow near Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Manchester, Birmingham and Ruislip in north-west London, earmarked for HS2. 

Despite the minister for planning in England, Nick Boles, suggesting "that the large increase in Britain’s population has made modest building on these areas unavoidable" concern has been voiced by leading ministers and the conservative back benches.  Twenty MPs have joined an All-Party Parliamentary Group established last month aimed at contesting green belt development.  However, with some councils redefining their greenbelt boundaries this will be a challenging task.

Chief executive of the CPRE, Shaun Spiers, stated that with the planning minister and chancellor sending "out signals that [this land] is up for grabs and that the need for growth trumps all other considerations" it was becoming increasingly difficult to challenge greenbelt development proposals, and has called on the Prime Minister David Cameron to "sort this out".

* The definition of brownfield land in England is much broader than in other countries and does not necessarily refer to heavily polluted sites. The UK Government defines brownfield land as "previously developed land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land and any associated fixed surface infrastructure."

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Published on Saturday, August 24, 2013 in The Telegraph
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