A South Hants Green Belt – Are we 50 Years too Late?

Southern Daily Echoe

CIVIC leaders have banded together to explore introducing a green belt in the Hampshire countryside.

The Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH), made up of the 10 councils from the southern part of the county, agreed to explore plans for the adoption of the building restriction area.

This proposal came from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which says the belt will protect the remaining countryside gaps between the urban areas of EastleighFareham, Portsmouth and Southampton.

If legally approved, this will mean no housing can be built on the land.

Councillor Seán Woodward, chairman of PUSH, leader of Fareham Borough Council, and county council member, recommended the committee looked at how the idea could be adopted.

This was supported by many other leaders, who spoke about the risks of not protecting the countryside and the potential benefits for local residents.

CPRE Hampshire chief executive Charlee Bennett said the green belt would protect some of Hampshire’ fields from house building and development.

She said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have had such a positive response.

“The adoption of a South Hampshire green belt would maintain the integrity of the cities, prevent urban sprawl and safeguard the beautiful countryside which we consistently hear is so important to communities. We are delighted that PUSH has decided to investigate the adoption of the belt further.

“Although the idea has been around for years, this is the first time the topic has been given the consideration it deserves, and we are so pleased for the unanimous support.”

PUSH will now be exploring options by working with councils including Eastleigh, Fareham, Test Valley, and Winchester, who have some of the most vulnerable green spaces.

Much of South Hampshire is an example of the worst of urban sprawl in England with development filling most of the are between Portsmouth and Southampton and along the A3 for 20 miles.  Unlike Bournemouth /Poole it never had a Green Belt.  It was always a strategic decision by the then Hampshire Structure Plan to push development north to Basingstoke and Andover and to the South Coast to avoid AONB and the leafy villages of the Test Valley.

This was strategically inevitable.  The A30 used to be the main route to the South West till the 20th Century, the decision was made not to upgrade it and to head the M3 directly south to Portsmouth rather than South West towards Exteter.  With Central Hampshire only served by stagecoach roads the growth had to be pushed to the South Coast.

PUSH is the pioneer of joint working.  But its strategy is out of date and simply split housing between district, it never defined strategic growth locations and its rapid transit plans came to nothing.

There are important gaps in along the coast, notably the Meon Valley (the only one defined as of regional importance currently by PUSH) and the Hamble.

There would be a good case for a closely defined Green Belt, like that between Cheltenham and Gloucester, to protect these gaps.

This I suspect is not what the campaigners want, what they want is a ring of steel, sorry green, around the towns.  However some of them must expand, in key directions it is blocked anyway by AONB and the New Forest and South Downs.  If they do declare a Green Belt make sure it is outside strategic locations with enough land for 20 years of growth and areas of strategic reserve for 10 or more years, otherwise it wont be permanent, and no point in having a temporary Green Belt.

Outside these river valleys I suspect a better approach would be either an urban growth boundary or Welsh type ‘Green Wedges’ (like Green Belt but no expectation they would be ‘permanent’).  Such a designation would need national recognition though to ensure it has the full backing of the NPPF.

It is a difficult one.  Some growth north of the M27 is inevitable as South of the M27 has so few sites.  It will cerainly be necessary to sacrifice one or more of the gaps between steellments (such as around Hedge End) to protect the rest. This shows that designating Green Belt is an act of regional planning, about creating places then using Green Belt to shape those places and protect more sensitive places, it is not about wrapping a corset of those areas that look Green.

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