The Green Belt is not a Thing in Itself – What Zack Simons and Others Get Wrong in calling for Green Belt Reform

Zack Simons (planoraks) in Telegraph

The prime minister calls the current planning system sclerotic. But the irony is that the most rigid and unresponsive plank of that system — the bit that has been almost completely unchanged since 1955, the bit holding back all kinds of sensible development ideas around our most sustainable cities — is the one bit his government’s reforms don’t touch at all: the greenbelt.

The Green Belt cannot be reformed by itself. It has never existed as a thing in itself.

Green Belt is and always has been one component of a regional plan. It is a form of zoning, you grow here and protect green areas around you grow. It has always been such back to Ebenezer Howard and Unwin and Abercrombies regional plans.

In the 1980sn however regional planning slowed down. New Towns stopped. Inner City regeneration was urged during a brief slowing down in household formation and urban population growth, In the same period Green Belt doubled despite no support in regional plans, only in protectionist structure plans, which often in the same period slowed down househbuilding.

Ever since Green Belt has become a fetish, risking being treated as a thing in itselfeven though it only exists and can only exist through a local plan designation.

Though I would prefer national leadership on Green Belt im less worried than many as Green Belt has and will be refined as and when local and strategic plans are rewritten. Plans are so out of date this need is ‘exceptional circumstances’ almost everywhere.

The real problem is not reform of the Green Belt but weakness in drawing up regional plans.

Green Belt only works when it is part of a plan which fully accounts for 20-30 years sustainable growth.

When you draw up such a plan you will find some areas of Green Belt are out of date and some new areas of Green Belt need to be designated.

So dont fetishise the Green Belt. Those who do are dodging the big strategic question – where are the practical places for zero carbon growth over the next 30 years.

Time for a Spotless Planning Charter

The decline in the rapid probity in public decision making, especially in planning, has been very worrying.

It has been many years since we have had a T Dan Smith scale scandal, though events in Liverpool may evolve to one.

Equally worrying has been the slipping of procurement rules. Cummings always hated OJEC, and the government has behaved in the last few months if it didn’t exist, nothwithstanding the transitional provisions till jan 1st 2021. I have little doubt that there will be quite a few going to prison as a result. However uniquely almost the UK doesnt have an anti corruption agency capable of independent investigation, The only times plod invesitages such matters is when journalists do all the investigation and lack o action becomes a public embarressment. The default position of all establishment bodies such as the police is that we are all jolly good chaps, our civil service is the outstanding and cleand and not like corrupt Johnny Foreigner. Nowadays the opposite is likely to be true.

Earlier this year Transparency International published a report Permission Accomplished.

To understand what could undermine openness in the planning process and what local authorities are doing to stop this, we have collected evidence from across England. Although there are some examples of good practice, generally the results make for a worrying read.

Unminuted, closed-door meetings with developers and excessive hospitality undoubtedly undermine confidence in the planning process, yet too many local authorities have weak rules to stop this from happening. Even fewer councils have control measures for major conflicts of interest, with far too many decision-makers also working for developers on the side. Moreover, when councillors behave badly, there are no clear or meaningful sanctions available to councils that could act as an effective deterrent against serious misconduct by them or others in the future.

To address these issues we propose ten practical solutions, none of which are beyond the means of those who need to implement them

It is time for a spotless planning charter for local authorities to sign up to all 10 principle and simultaniously amend their standing orders to fully implement them. All professional bodies should support this and make it a decisplinery offence for chief planners to work at authorities that fail to sign up in full to them after a certain date.