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Opinion: Green belt scaremongering

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Opinion: Green belt scaremongering

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities, Development

Opinion: Green belt scaremongering Opinion: Green belt scaremongering

By Colin Wiles, housing consultant and SHOUT campaigner

The Daily Telegraph is at it again.

For the past few years they have been running a ludicrous “Hands off our Land” campaign giving succour and solace to nimbys and reactionaries throughout the land. 

Their latest article shouts “Green Belt: doubling in new homes built since Coalition was formed”. It states, “Figures obtained by The Telegraph show that 15 new homes in England are now approved on Green Belt land every single day”. 

This alarmist story deserves some deeper analysis.

Read between the lines and the report references a new report from planning consultancy Glenigan – you can read it here. This extract is the relevant part of the report: 

Last year saw the approval of 5,600 new homes on the green belt, compared to just 2,260 in 2009/10; a 148% increase over the five-year period. Of these, 834 projects in 2013/14 were for one or two unit schemes, typically in-fill and ‘self-build’ projects. 

“This compares to 657 in 2009/10. Developments of three or more homes account for a growing majority of residential units built on greenbelt sites. In 2009/10, 87 projects secured approval for 1,600 homes. Approvals have risen progressively over the period with 227 projects approved in 2013/14, a 161% rise over the five year period. 

First of all, a significant proportion of these projects are infill, and therefore not in the green belt at all. Infill implies building within existing settlements, to plug gaps and utilise brownfield sites (something that countryside campaigners are consistently calling for). Existing settlements may sit within the green belt, but they do not technically occupy green belt land, as you can see from this interactive map

The second point to make is that we are emerging from a building slump so you would expect the number of new homes to be going up, across the country as a whole.

Thirdly, the NPPF protects the green belt, just as it did before, and green belt boundaries can only be reviewed when local plans are re-cast. It is also the case that the green belt is not all ”green”; it contains farms, warehouses, quarries and all kinds of structures and developments, many of which pre-date the green belt designation. 

But the most important point about this Telegraph story is this. If 5,600 homes were approved “in” the green belt last year (and not all of them will be built, let’s remember) and if we make a conservative assumption that the density of these dwellings will be 30 to the hectare, that means 187 hectares of “green belt will be “built upon” in a single year. Yet the English green belt is 1.7 million hectares – 13% of England’s land mass. 187 hectares a year is about one ten thousandth of the green belt’s total area. It is a tiny, tiny fraction of the total green belt. Even if that level of development carried on for a hundred years, only 1% of the green belt would be eroded. 

So, we really must confront these scaremongering stories from the Telegraph and others. It is scandal that they can be given free rein to manipulate facts and figures in this way.

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