The scramble for housing is coming into conflict with those who believe parts of the countryside should be protected
06:28, UK,Monday 02May 2016
Video:Green Belt Sacrificed For Housing
By Emma Birchley, East of England Correspondent
The green belt is being “sacrificed” to make way for new homes as councils face pressure to help the Government hit a target of 200,000 new properties a year, countryside campaigners are warning.
A report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England has revealed 275,000 homes are currently planned for the green belt – up 25% on last year.
Close to half of those are in the area around London, including Central Bedfordshire where residents are concerned about the rate at which protected land is being earmarked for development.
“We are set to lose five square miles of green belt and provide on it something like 13,000 additional homes,” said rural campaigner Thurstan Adburgham.
“It’s a huge tract of green belt countryside… Once the sacrifice on this scale has been made, obviously the principle has been lost that green belt is supposed to be sacred and sacrosanct and more could go.”
Video:2015: Unaffordable Properties
Part of the problem, according to the CPRE, is that councils are using certain clauses in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework to change green belt boundaries at the fastest rate for two decades.
Paul Miner, the organisation’s planning campaign manager, says this is being done to meet “unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets”.
“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 one million new homes,” he said.
But the Government says it has made it clear demand for housing alone is not enough to justify altering a green belt boundary and that the strongest of protections are in place.
“Our planning reforms have put local people at the heart of deciding where developments should and shouldn’t go through local and neighbourhood plans,” said a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government.
“It means that in 2014-15 just 0.02% of green belt was converted to residential use, and the green belt is actually 32,000 hectares bigger than it was in 1997.”
But while the decision to build on such land is rarely popular, there are those who believe it is necessary as first time buyers struggle to find a way onto the housing ladder.
“It’s in areas where the green belt constraints are tightest – around London, Cambridge and Oxford – that the housing crisis and the house price affordability crisis is most acute,” said Ryan Bourne, head of policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
“The Government has left it to local councils to decide but I do think as the affordability crisis bites there will be pressure on the boroughs, particularly around London, to release more green belt land for development.
“We’re not talking about huge amounts here. If just 4% of around 500,000 hectares of land, which is close to stations and of no environmental designation, were released then we could build a million homes in London.”