Green belts under threat from government ‘sustainable’ plans

England's green belt land, designed to protect the countryside from urban sprawl, is under threat from a variety of government planning proposals, a rural campaign group has warned.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has said a pattern of sustained attacks on green belts is emerging, with the biggest threat coming from government itself.

Indeed, one of the biggest threats identified comes from the government’s ‘Sustainable Communities Plan’ launched in 2003. This has proposed an extra 200,000 houses in the South East of England on top of the existing proposed housing numbers, by 2016, as well as a growth strategy around Manchester and Liverpool.

The CPRE says that this has already led to a series of green belt boundary reviews being promoted despite little or no assessment of the Plan’s environmental impact.

Draft changes to national planning policy, such as draft planning policy statement 10: Planning for sustainable waste management, also threaten to weaken green belt policy the CPRE warns.

In addition to housing, aviation also threatens over 700 hectares of green belt as a result of airport expansion (see related story) plans in the south east.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE Chief Executive said: “From the government’s Sustainable Communities Plan to the Aviation White Paper, a major onslaught on Green Belt land is underway unlike any seen since national Green Belt policy was introduced 50 years ago. And, many local councils, the first line if defence against Green Belt incursion, are meekly following the government’s lead.”

He added that the green belt land was being eroded despite Ministers repeatedly reaffirming their commitment to preserving the areas. In a letter to the Daily Mail in February 2004, John Prescott said the government was “committed to preserving and extending the green belt in all our regions”; while, in May 2004, then Planning Minister Keith Hill, said: “We have no plans to relax planning controls on the green belt.”

Despite these pledges, a series of reviews of green belt land is already being promoted and plots of green belt land are being offered for sale.

The CPRE, marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the green belts, has launched its campaign, Green Belts: If they didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them, to raise awareness of the dangers and help local communities protect the affected areas.

“We urge the government to go beyond fine words about green belts and to pull us back from the brink of their unprecedented destruction. Ministers must provide convincing and positive leadership, to guarantee green belt policy even greater success over the next 50 years,” Mr Spiers said.

“With political will, green belt policy can be strengthened, established green belts can be enhanced and new areas of green belt can be created.”

By David Hopkins

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