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 Plans are so out of date this need is ‘exceptional circumstances’ almost everywhere.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When you draw up such a plan you will find some areas of Green Belt are out of date and some new areas of Green Belt need to be designated.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.