The talk over the weekend was a Conservative Manifesto as short as 1979. This is of note as it was the last Conservative Manifesto to say nothing about the Green Belt.
This may be been seen as a mistake by Thatcher and Ridley as the early 1980s were the period which saw county councils double the extent of Green Belt in Structure Plans.
The then HBF was nervous, though the expansion was mainly in the outer edge of Green Belts they were concerned about the tightness of Green Belt around settlements.
The 1983 Manifesto contained a very coded proposed relaxation of Green Belt – talking of how the more derelict and vacant land in cities was used the less Green Belt and Countryside would need to be used, The implication logically was some loss was needed. This cuteness would backfire.
The incoming SoS the late Patrick Jenkin issued a draft circular – mild and coded by modern day standards. It did not propose sweeping away of Green Belts but simply drawing of their boundaries in a way to leave sufficient housing land. As he said in 1984 ‘They must not be pulled so tightly that there is no room left for housing in the future’. The reaction was overwhelming, Jenkin attended a special CPRE conference where he backed down.
Of course the politics was against him with so many urban fringe Tory Mps, The timing could not have been worse, inner cities were in decline and by 1987 the Manifesto boasted that since returning to power the extent of the Green Belt had doubled, only 8 years. By 1998 PPG set out the policy that brownfield development in Inner cities was the outlet to prevent expansion of cities.
Seen in the historical long run we can see the exapnsion of the Green Belt – and winding up of new towns – in the 1980s as a reaction against the temporary geographical circumstances of the decade with massive manufacturing job loss and inner city decline before the revival of most cities – London in particular made the policy out of date. The problem being that for the last 30 years no government has dared challenge it, or provide a viable policy offset, given the asset in terms of increased house prices the Green Belt gives to conservative voters around cities.