We were supposed to wait two weeks for the first two of the five Large Garden Communities announced in the Spring Statement – we have been waiting 3 months.
Are these supposed to be ‘locally led’ , as in the New Towns Act regulations released this week, or not? There is confusion because the growth deals announced then such as for Oxfordshire stick strictly to SHMA housing levels, not the ‘transformational’ growth proposed in the NIC report which requires
- enhanced employment growth and
- overspill from ‘land constrained’ areas such as London.
The history of New Towns such as Stevenage since teh war is that large proposal are resisted because they are seen as transferring problems from London.
Even the Mayor of London now admits the targets in the latest London Plan are unachievable likely to see an undershoot of 40,000 a year by current trends.
Technical work such as my own briefings to the NIC and by 5th Studio, have shown that given this transformational scenario you have to go for large New Towns of a scale not proposed in current local plans to meet this growth in a sustainable manner. Hence the reference in the NIC report to large Garden Communities.
Where has been the progress on this?
The government has been waiting for something, was it to the finalisation of the ‘locally led’ regs. totally unsuited as they wont have land value capture or DM powers unlike the original new towns, new town development corporations in form but not substance. Are they awaiting to appoint masterplanners, no peep of that, are they awaiting Treasury approval, no peep of disagreements, or is it subject of a number 10 logjam and indecision caused by Brexit, most likely. Someone ask a parlimanetary question to find out what is going on.
Rees-Mogg, in an interview broadcast on the Conservative Home website, argues that the 1947 Planning Act was a “Socialist Act” which enabled bureaucrats to decide what was best for people, and that it has created the housing crisis by restricting the supply of land for housing. He argues that while there is genuine Green Belt, there is also much that is “poor quality scrub land that could easily be developed.” Rees-Mogg’s view is that natural beauty should be protected (via Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONBs) but that villages within AONBs can take “5 or 10 more houses” without risking any adverse impact on ‘natural beauty’.
Others are also banging the same drum – The Landscape Institute is calling for a strategic review of Green Belt policy.
In truth very little of the Green Belt is covered in scrubland (it’s such a small percentage it’s not even included in the statistics) – and what if it was? Scrub is a very valuable wildlife habitat, and one of the richest in terms of overall diversity of plants and animals, as well as supporting many rarities. Lodge Hill – the abandoned army camp in Kent made famous for the ongoing battle to stop it having a new town built on it, supports England’s largest Nightingale population, precisely because it has a large area of Scrub.
The Green Belt is not an environmental designation., if land has scrub or any other habitat worthy of protection it should not be lost. Green Belt has clearly defined purposes to prevent urban sparawl etc. that can be fulfilled even if land is derilict or in poor condition. It is sensible to review whether land meets those purposes if the effect of Green belt is to worsen sprawl by causing leapfrog development beyond it – which it clearly does. Then land of low quality would be top of the list. A sensible approach to the Green Belt would look at how to improve the biodiversity value of the 96-98% of the Green Belt that would stay – such as in the proposals for the London Biodiversity by Douglas Mc Nab in the latest edition of T&CP.