Planning policy could put green belts at risk

A view of the valley parkland and beyond to the Bath skyline © 164078/Andrew Butler

A view of the valley parkland and beyond to the Bath skyline

Latest update 19.12.2013 11:33

Our new research suggests that half of the councils in England with green belt land are preparing to allocate some of it for development whilst brownfield sites throughout the country are overlooked.

Eighteen months after the Government put in place its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) survey commissioned by us found that 51 per cent of the councils it surveyed with green belts within their areas said they were now likely or very likely to allocate green belt land for development (this is based on responses from 59 councils with green belt).

Overall, more than half of the 147 councils that responded to the survey said that their local authority had brownfield sites available that could help meet the five-year housing land supply target, but that these hadn’t been considered viable.

Whilst consulting on the NPPF in 2011, Ministers and the Prime Minister stated firm commitments to protecting the green belt – whilst promoting an explicit brownfield first policy – both of which seem to be coming undone in practice. These findings confirm evidence from CPRE that the number of houses planned for the Green Belt has doubled since last year, to 150,000.

Green belt is a 'star feature'

Our Chairman, Simon Jenkins said: 'The green belt has been the star feature of British town and country planning for half a century.

'In one of Europe’s most congested countries, it has prevented urban sprawl, protected a vision of rural England and retained access to green spaces for urban dwellers that has been admired worldwide.

'Some councils may want to review their green belt boundaries as has always been possible, but the planning system as a whole should attach a greater weight to protecting green spaces.

'The Government’s definition of ‘sustainable’ is in practice being interpreted as ‘profitable’, and has effectively killed the former planning presumption in favour of brownfield land.

'What is now happening is a policy of let rip, leading to steady erosion. For the first time in British planning history, planning control is now the slave not the master of profit.'

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGIU, added: 'This research shows that the NPPF and targets around housing supply are putting significant strain on councils' ability to protect green belt.

'It's crucial that we build more houses but we need to allow local authorities the flexibility to take a strategic view on how this should be managed locally.'

Potential outcome

The findings come as new National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG), to be issued by the Government by early next year, could increase the threat to green spaces.

Analysis of the draft NPPG suggests that it could cause local authorities to release more land than is necessary for development in the countryside, including in the green belt. It also misses the opportunity to strengthen the brownfield first policy.

Further measures announced in the 5 December autumn statement also look set to increase pressure on local authorities to say ‘yes’ to development by, for example, increasing opportunities for developers to bypass the local planning system and seeking to increase the influence of the New Homes Bonus incentive on planning decisions.

Ingrid Samuel, our Historic Environment Director said: 'What councils are saying is alarming. Green belt has historically been some of the country’s most protected green space, and the NPPF was supposed to continue that protection.

'We need more homes and, if agreed in approved local plans, some of these may be built on previously undeveloped land, but the priority should remain brownfield first.

'The Prime Minister and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have always made clear their desire to protect the green belt but this is not what the NPPF appears to be delivering on the ground.

'We are calling on the Government to amend its new guidance to ensure the planning system delivers on the Government’s promise to deliver a ‘brownfield first’ policy, and to reaffirm its commitment to protect valued green spaces from development.'