Consider the map below
The green is Green Belt. The purple overlay is area with adopted (2004 Act) strategies or those found sound but not yet adopted. It is a couple of months out of date I have to admit – I know one or two areas such as Woking which I need to add to the database, but now working abroad I have had less incentive and funding to keep it bang up to date.
Under the NPPF if you have a Green Belt and an adopted plan you are safe, even if up to date household projections etc. show your plan to be way out of date. This of course is because the ‘presumption in favour’ is overidden by the ‘presumption against’ and caselaw outs the onus on the applicant to hunt for sites outside the Green Belt etc.
But for those without up to date plans they have a problem. They need to show they meet ‘objectively identified need’ and if they haven’t explored this with other authorities they wont meet the new statutory test of duty to cooperate or its soundness analogue.
Since the NPPF came in very few authorities in the Metropolitan Green Belt ring outside the GLA area have been found sound. Those areas that did previously get over the hurdle were in authorities where regional plans directed household growth away because of high AONB coverage. So in Bucks for example it went to Milton Keynes, in Kent to Ashford and the Thames Gateway. Arguably Woking was lucky, the legal challenge to the South East Plan left a fudgerama of a hole in the housing targets for the area which it sailed through, it wont be so lucky when the SEP is revoked and the plan has to be reviewed on the basis of the forthcoming household projections. You will note Reigate and Bansted was less fortunate in trying to disguise the need for a Green Belt review.
So we have the rest of Surrey, Herts (where very little progress has been made) and Essex. Here the regional strategies required in many places Green Belt reviews and plans have been delayed as LPAs hoped that national policy would swing in their favour, it did, for mere moments and now with ‘muscular localism’ they may gamble it is bound to swing back, or at least if Nick Boles is now going to order PINS to take the key decisions they might as well get the blame rather than taking difficult but necessary decisions themselves.
Readers of this blog will know that there is no greater defender of the strategic planning principle of the Green Belt than I. But, as the Prime Ministers Speech on Abercrombie last year indicated it only works as part of a package of strategic planning, with growth diverted to Garden Cities beyond the Green Belt where they make sense and Sustainable Urban Extensions to major towns, as part of strategic Green Belt reviews, where they do not. Nothing is more of a threat to the Green Belt long term than the statements of Eric Pickles and our new housing minister Mark Prisk that the Green Belt in ‘inviolate’ and as tight as a chastity belt rather than elastic knickers. This only provided fuel to the Policy Exchange build out to the M25 sprawl lovers and came very close to threatening the very survival of the Green Belt altogether.
The problem was in the 80s and 90s the Green Belt spiralled in size across these three counties. At this time household growth was comparatively constrained compared to today, the baby boomers had had fewer children and the full force of an aging population hadnt hit. Also with social housebuilding falling off a cliff plans simply assumed that need didn’t exist. In many areas where the Green Belt puffed out it was proposed to have a number of selective removals such as west of Stevenage, compensated by additions elsewhere – such as in Beds. The problem is the removals didn’t happen but the additions did, the opposite of the Osborne scenario. In Essex the assumption was that the Thames Gateway would take the strain, but viability has been a big issue. With Green Belts having a life span of 20 years time has now run out.
The areas face a dilemma, either cooperate to find places outside the Green Belt to take the pressure or review it. In Surrey the assumption was of some spillover to Sussex and Hants, what incentive is their for the receiver authorities now now regional planning has ended?
In Herts there is probably a shortfall of over 500,000 houses overall between what is in draft plans and what is needed. There seems to be a fear of being examined first and being hammered, similarly with eastern Essex.
Now there is an argument to say it makes little sense to cram too much housing development willy nilly around the M25 and much of the growth should be located in Garden Cities either beyond the Green Belt or at public transport nodes within it. But we are unlikely to see this seriously studied unless the government dispels itself of its ideological bias against planning and in particular facilitating larger than local planning.