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How green is the green belt?

Wednesday 12 July 2017

As the Government tightens its reigns on local authority plans on where to build to meet housing need, it has been accused of failing young and first-time buyers as it emerges half a million new green belt homes will not be affordable.

Development on green belt land is supposed to be closely controlled so that it can fulfil its main purpose: to serve as a buffer between towns and countryside. The idea is to retain areas of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding or neighbouring urban areas, and incentivise the regeneration of damaged and derelict land within the built-up areas surrounded by green belt.

Data produced by construction analysis firm Glenigan has revealed that councils have earmarked land in local plans to build 425,000 new properties on green belt land. This is a massive jump of 54 per cent since March 2016, and is the biggest year-on-year increase put forward on the green belt for two decades. New plans have proposed nearly 98,000 homes for green belt in the North-West, 73,000 in the West Midlands and 71,000 scheduled for around London and the South-East.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has called for councils to focus on brownfield land for development instead, while Legal & General has called for a reassessment of the green belt, arguing that freeing up just one per cent of it could be enough for one million new homes.

A report from the CPRE found that of the nearly half a million new homes planned to be built on the green belt, more than 70 per cent are not affordable; the Governments National Planning Policy Framework allows for 28 per cent of affordable homes, which includes those available for rent below market rate or sale through mechanisms such as shared ownership.

Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy said:

"Green belt is being lost at an ever-faster rate, yet the type of housing being built now or in the future will do very little to address the affordable housing crisis faced by many families and young people.

"We must not be the generation that sells off our precious green belt in the mistaken belief it will help improve the affordability of housing. The only ones set to benefit from future green belt development will be landowners and the big house builders, not communities in need of decent, affordable housing."

This comes as South Cambridgeshire District Council have held their hands up after accidentally approving a new, seven home development on green belt land, after the judgement was wrongly entered on a computer. The development, which was due to be built at Grove Farm, on the corner of Harlton Road and Church Street in Haslingfield was wrongly given the green light, and the council is now having to file legal papers in the High Court to overturn the administrative error.

A spokesperson for the district council said the scheme had actually been rejected, but the outcome of the application had been incorrectly entered as an approval into a computer system which generated a letter for the applicant.

"This process has already been changed and additional checks put in place to try and make sure the problem does not happen again,” the spokesperson said.

"Once the error was spotted the council spoke to the applicant and have now filed legal papers with the High Court. The application to the court has been made by Cllr Nick Wright, the council’s deputy leader and is expected to be rescinded within six to eight weeks."

Cllr Robert Turner, the cabinet member for planning, said:

"We completely hold our hands up – we have made a human error in this case. We process around 2,500 planning applications a year and we make every effort to avoid errors of this sort. We got it wrong in this case and reviewed what happened. We have apologised to the applicant and are making changes to our processes to try and make sure it does not happen again."

Wayne Chrzanowski, director of the applicants' agents, Ely Planning Company, said:

"It's very frustrating. This is much-needed housing for the village. Before we decide what to do next, we need to see the outcome of the legal proceedings the council is taking."

The Government’s planning policy generally regards the construction of new buildings as “inappropriate” for the green belt, with ministers repeatedly reaffirming the government’s commitment to green belt preservation, stating that councils may only alter boundaries in exceptional circumstances.