Is it worth Ministers Picking a Fight on the Green Belt?

Last year (Nov 22nd) Javid was briefing the Daily Mail that:

Thousands of homes could be built on the green belt if local authorities offer up other land to create new protected areas.

Ministers are understood to be examining the green belt ‘land swaps’ proposal for inclusion in an upcoming white paper to help solve the housing crisis.

Green belt swaps would only be allowed if councils offer to designate other land as green belt space.

 Thousands of homes could be built on the green belt if local authorities offer up other land to create new protected areas

The plan is likely to be met with stiff opposition from MPs however, with critics warning that it will threaten Britain’s countryside and lead to urban sprawl.

And similarly to Telegraph:

Ministers will next month publicly back building thousands of houses on green belt land despite a growing Tory rebellion and concerns from environmental campaigners.

The Sunday Telegraph understands the Government will encourage the use of “green belt swaps” in a white paper to help solve the housing crisis.

The scheme allows councils to remove protections on one part of green belt in return for creating a new area of protected land elsewhere.

Critics says the change could transform Britain’s countryside by allowing thousands of homes to be built on protected land and watering down the original definition of green belt.

However ministers believe the swaps are a sensitive way of protecting rural land while giving councils the powers to hit ambitious housing targets.

Sajid Javid, the Local Government Secretary, indicated his support in a speech this week as he called on MPs not to oppose building on green belt outright.

But that speech to IHBC was not about Green Belt swaps but Brum’s decision to delete Green Belt without a swap, being underbounded it had no land to compensate.

Where local councils come forward with sensible, robust local plans – and are willing to take the tough decisions – I will back them all the way.

For example, Birmingham City Council has put forward a plan to meet some of its local housing need by removing green belt designation from a small area of land.

The plan is supported by the independent Planning Inspectorate.

But it’s fundamentally a local decision made by local people.

They’ve looked at all the options. They’ve considered all the implications.

They want to build homes for their children and grandchildren.

And Westminster politicians should not stand in the way of that.

That’s why, earlier today, we lifted the central government hold on the Birmingham Local Plan.

The idea of a ‘swap’ has occurred to numerous politicians, whether Prescott, Osborne, Javid or Andy Burnham when they wish to ease the pain of Green Belt release.

But rarely to authorities on the inner edge of Green Belt have non Green Belt land to swap, and under National Planning Policy the new Green Belt needs to have an exceptional circumstance and serve a Green Belt purpose.  Unless that is around a new settlement or major urban extension it wont pass the test.

Therefore a general Green Belt swap policy would make the land shortage for housing worse not better.  It appears to have been quietly dropped from the housing Green/White paper.  Good.  It is not worth picking a fight with numerous MPs and Cabinet colleagues giving the impression of a general roll back of the Green Belt.  It is much better to champion specific loss of Green Belt in specific locations where it makes sense.  What matters is whether National Policy provides a coherent framework for managing the overspill from large cities where Brownfield sites fall short – as they do in every region.

Under the laissez-faire approach of the NPPF if an area falls short it needs to begin a process to negotiate how the shortfall will be resolved with neighbours.  It can under the Boles doctrine treat the GB as a çonstraint’but as we have pointed out many times here that risks a failure under the DTC legal and/or soundness principles – as St Albans and Castelpoint have found recently to their cost.

This leaves, especially around London and Birmingham a huge overspill.  One suspects the scale of GB loss around Greater Manchester will be reduced leading to overpill pressure in Cheshire, Staffordshire and Lancashire.

The theory of the NPPF was this would eventually be worked through under the DTC, the trouble is we have found it takes years with no structure to resolve.

The LPEG report in a uturn acknowledged that corridor and strategic studies would be needed to resolve the overspill.  Only Greater Brum so far  is responding with a study and with no mechanism other than unanimity to resolve it.

Traditionally of course the means of resolving overspill beyond the Green Belt was new settlements.  The trouble is now the Green Belt around London having grown from 7-10 miles wide to 40-50 in some locations pushes development out too far.  For example in new towns Hemel Hempstead and Basildon land earmarked in masterplans for last stage expansion was washed over with Green Belt expansions by County Councils keen to shut down the New Towns early.  In both cases we have classic examples of none cooperation by neighbouring authorities.  However in the Basildon case the backing by the dept of Dunton Garden Village seems designed to overcome the empass and it passed with barely a mumor on the national media stage.  This shows that targeted positive intervention by the SoS is likely to be much more effective that swepping none specific interventions against the tightness of the GB generally.

The acid test for the housing green/white paper is whether it provides a strateguic solution to housing oversill beyond the Green Belt, joined up with transport proposals.  The Oxford-Cambridge Arc (previously known as MKSM) is an obvious starting point.  The problem is May doesnt seem to like Garden Cities, for the very petty reason that Osborne backed Ebbsfleet Garden City and it didnt deliver despite the fact that post designation because of previous non-delivery it will this year produce more housing completions than anywhere else in England (600+) this leads to the great risk that the housing paper will not have a clear solution to the problem of insufficient housing land on the outside of the GB other than carrying on with the unsustainable solution of grating ever larger urban extensions and village extensions in locations without public trsnasport everywhere and anywhere and usually on appeal.


One thought on “Is it worth Ministers Picking a Fight on the Green Belt?

  1. Why don’t they just agree that within the next say ten year timeframe 2% of greenbelt to be freed up for housing. That should see us through to generations to come. Too much dithering, MP’s concerns about votes as opposed to the urgent needs of the young, it is simply immoral. Turkey are in the process of building what will be the biggest airport in the world in Istanbul yet here it takes years to agree on Heathrow (or for any site for that matter). Little England mentality, some things never change.

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