How long can ministers (in this case Mark Prisk) keep spouting the same SPAD scribbled outdated nonsense on threats to the Green Belt without putting on their thinking caps and looking at current threats and their scale. Prisk from yesterday’s story on how threats to the Green Belt in plans have doubled in a year.
“We have increased green belt protections by abolishing every single one of the last government’s top-down regional strategies that sought to delete the green belt in 30 areas — Local Plans are now sovereign,”
The figure is simply a repeat of the numbers given by Andrew Stunnell in NPPF commons debates and completely sidesteps the key issue which is whether there has been a net increase or decrease in threats to the Green Belt. Today ill send an FOI request to the DCLG to ask what these areas are, how much housing in these areas was envisaged in RSS and how much housing in the same areas is now planned in the Green Belt including new areas. These are all matters of fact.
Lets have a look what the then Minister Andrew Stunnell said in the Westminster Hall Debate on the Green Belt on 18th October 2011
Some 30 green belt areas are currently under the kind of pressure that my hon…due to the pressure exerted by regional spatial strategies, which often impose highly inappropriate numbers on areas without the physical capacity to take them.
Whilst on the day he proposed (somewhat hopefully) to immediately revoke RSS on 6/July/2010 Pickles stated
Councils will now be free to protect Green Belt surrounding 30 towns across the country. The targets system forced them to redraw Green Belt boundaries and designate large areas of countryside for new development. Communities will now have the power to prevent encroachment on the Green Belt and decide themselves where they want to build.
And in a press release relating to a letter to all LPAs on 31st May 2010 Pickles states
“The previous Government gave a green light for the destruction of the Green Belt across the country and we are determined to stop it.“We’ve promised to use legislation to scrap top-down building targets that are eating up the Green Belt,
So the threat wasn’t caused by necessarily high housing targets but unnecessarily high housing numbers. So what is the government’s response now to the current threats in draft local plans, that these numbers are necessarily high? If they are necessarily high the whole ‘Green Belt’ case against regional planning falls away. Mark Prisk cannot use only half of the argument provided to him in briefings because it no longer has any logical basis.
Lets look at the list of these areas from the 31/5/2010 press release.
Towns and areas that were planning to make Green Belt cuts and reviews because of Whitehall-imposed targets will now be able to make their own decisions where new development is built. They include: Bath, Bedworth, Bournemouth, Bristol, Bromsgrove, Broxbourne, Cheltenham, Chertsey, Coventry, Gloucester, Guildford, Harlow, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Leeds, Lichfield, Maidenhead, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Nottingham, Nuneaton, Oxford, Redditch, Redhill, Reigate, Rushcliffe, Stevenage, Solihull, Tunbridge Wells, Welwyn, and Woking and Worcester and in West Yorkshire beyond Leeds.
Lets go through these areas. Of course in 2010 the particular scale of Green Belt loss was not necessarily known as RSS simply required strategic reviews to meet an residual housing need which in many cases was not yet calculated. Also in many areas the housing targets implied Green Belt revisions but did not specify where.
Bath They withdraw Green Belt proposals from the plan but inspector said they had underestimated housing need, They now have consulted on plans for 1,370 homes on the Green Belt.
Bedworth, Nuneaton Nuneaton and Bedworth have fearcly resisted plans for Green Belt loss and refused to cooperate with Coventry on a SHMA. Following the Coventry inspectors decision that Coventry breached to Duty to Cooperate and set housing targets too low a joint SHMA is now being prepared, as well as a joint Green Belt Study. The threat to the Bedworth Green Belt has not gone away.
Bournemouth The South East Plan proposed a review of the Green Belt North of Bournemouth, It submitted a plan in 2011 after the decision to revoke the SEP but before the NPPF came in. This did not include the North of Bournemouth proposals.
The inspector found on the basis of a revised SHMA that household formation had gone down but affordable needs had gone up. The inspector (pre NPPF) found that
‘Given the ‘aspirational’ nature of such surveys and the acknowledged lack of realism in meeting the identified needs, I consider more weight should be accorded to the realistic expectations of general household growth.’ [rather than affordable housing needs].
Of course this was pre-NPPF and post NPPF inspectors have consistently held that this must be met in full whatever the funding position. The inspector did require an early review however so the threat has not gone away one little bit, merely shunted tempoariliy to surrounding districts.
Bristol The South West Plan proposed significant development South West of Bristol in North Somerset District, the inspectors report was subject to successful JR because teh inspector misunderstood the extremely technical way the Council has fixed the housing numbers. The threat has not gone away one little bit.
Bromsgrove, Redditch The West Midlands plan proposed expansion of Redditch northwards.
Broxborne Their submitted was found unsound in 2010. The inspector however backed the Green Belt development.
Cheltenham, Gloucester A joint plan for Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewksbury proposes over 4,500 homes on land to the north west of Cheltenham.
Chertsey in Runnymeade District. Probably refers to the DERA site a former Tank Factory nearer Oxted, was included in the Preferred Core Strategy, still in the draft local plan.
Coventry, Coventry withdrew its adopted plan the day it was adopted following a change in administration. Its revised plan was found unsound and to breach the duty to cooperate. There is now a joint Green Belt study and SHMA.
Guildford The South East Plan requirement for a ‘selective’ Green Belt review, but this was successfully challenged for not being strategic. They did not get a plan through before the South East Plan was revoked (unlike Woking) and they wont consult on a draft plan until this October, will it have to consider Green Belt release? Of course it will.
Harlow The East of England Plan proposed expansion North of Harlow into East Herts and Epping Forest Districts. A joint consultation was carried out but things have been very quiet for the past three years, its seems there is a lack of agreement of the three authorities. The threat has not gone away it has simply got mired in the Duty to Fight like rats in sack.
Hatfield in Welwyn Hatfield District. The East of England plan proposed a Green Belt review but this was challenged successfully for failure to consider alternatives. The proposal top expand St Hatfield is in St Albans District. Cllrs bravely voted not to submit a Plan for St Albans District which was unrealistic and did not include a strategic Green Belt review, a joint Green Belt study is now under way. The threat has not gone away at all.
Hemel Hempstead is in Dacorum district. Their plan was judged not to have 15 years housing supply and an early review is required after three years.
Leeds There proposed local plan contains plans for over 2,000 Green Belt homes.
Lichfield Probably a mistake to include as the plans related to an area of strategic reserve along the A38 corridor rather then Green Belt, this area is proposed for development in the submitted Lichfield Local Plan recently at examination, the question is how much.
Maidenhead In Windsor and Maidenhead District. Teh SEP set a target of 7,000 houses which the District felt required loss of 130Ha of Green Belt South of Maidenhea, for 3,750 houses. The district has yet to publish a local plan. Their last plan consultation did not consult on housing numbers and simply asked whether people supported protection of the Green Belt. What a joke. Chances of any such none plan being found sound – zero.
Newcastle Under Lyme Covered by the Core Spatial Strategy for Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent an early plan adopted in 2009 prior to the revisions to the West Midlands Plan being published, This plan is now out of date so the issue has not gone away.
Nottingham, Rushcliffe Ha, Rushcliffe was foiund unsound and not meeting the duty to cooperate. They have now been forced to review there housing numbers and like other Greater Nottingham Districts consider Green Belt sites.
Oxford Same legal issue as Guildford etc. They scraped through withe a sound plan but early review is required because of the large gap in housing. A joint SHMA is being preapred for the housing market area, hence the threat to the land to the South of Oxford, in South Oxford Distruct, will return.
Reigate and Redhill Thier plan was found unsound and they are now doing a strategic Green Belt Review.
Stevenage The East of England Plan supported development West of Stevenage in North Herts District. The Stevenage plan (pre duty to cooperate) was found unsound because the adjoining housing was considered undeliverable without North Hert’s support. North Herts have yet to subkite their plan but in July 2013 was forced to reconsult on land adjoining both Stevenage and Luton. It is difficult to see them having a sound plan without West of Stevenage or its numerical equivalent.
Solihull Plan submitted in 2012 now at examination. The Panel Report on the Phase 2 Revision 2009 noted that Green Belt review is required for the area of North Solihull, north of the A45 as realigned to accommodate the runway extension at Birmingham International Airport, and west of the M42/M6 Motorways. A review proposes removal of two parcels in this area and bringing two areas of reserved land into the Green Belt. The inspectors interim report backed the housing targets but made no conclusion over Green Belt issues.
Tonbridge Wells Again a mistake to include as the South East Plan referred to an area of strategic reserve which the LPA wanted to declare as Green Belt not development of Green Belt itself. They rather seem to have based it off a report by Labour South East committee in 2010 not the South East Plan.
Woking Same legal issues as Guildford and Oxford . The hole in the housing numbers as a result meant they scraped through with a sound plan (just before the NPPF became live) but an early review is required, the threat has not gone away merely postponed. A Green Belt review is required by the local plan in 2016/2017.
Worcester A mistake Worcester has no Green Belt, parts of Wychavon district around Driotwich Spa are in the Green Belt and will be covered by a joint ‘South Worcestershire’ development plan. Changes are proposed to the Green Belt following a 2010 Green Belt study from July 2010 proposing only minor revisions. I think it was included as a mistake as the West Midlands Plan panel did not propose Green Belt revisions ion Worcester, rather it rejected suggestions that the Green Belt should be extended between Droitwich Spa and Worcester.
West Yorkshire Beyond Leeds Several thousand homes included in teh Draft plans for West Yorkshire authorities.
If anyone has more detailed local info please let me know. I have no idea why the list did not include Luton (another fine mess), Warwick or Cambridge.
So I make that 14 areas not 30 when areas wrongly included , double counting is eliminated and wrongly counting policies in the SEP subject to successful JR are excluded Has the threat gone away from any of these areas? No the Green Belt is under just as much threat now as it was in 2010. So in terms of a fact check, sorry Mr Prisk pants on fire.
What I think is needed, following the formation of the all party Green Belt Group, is a specific DCLG select committee report into the future of teh Green Belt. I suggest this should be in two parts, firstly to quantify the current threats to the Green Belt from Emerging local pans, secondly to examine whether the NPPG mechanism for considering alternatives to Green Belt development – including the duty to cooperate- are proving workable. It is clear to me that in those authorities with cross boundary Green Belt issues, Stevenage, Harlow, Coventry etc. it isn’t working at all.
Many of the issues that pressure the Green Belt are now the same as those that drove RSS, demographics, viability of brownfield sites. The big change with the abolition of regional plans however is that it is much harder to consider alternatives beyond the Green Belt.