The Green Belt: good for cities

The Times has something of a campaign against the Green Belt. On Friday Ross Clarke’s Thunderer contained the usual arguments – London is choking, much of the Green Belt is poor quality land (‘grim monocultures of wheat and rapeseed’), green wedges would be better than the Green Belt (presumably because less effective). For the second time this month I succumbed to what Evelyn Waugh called ‘that senile itch to write to The Times’. My letter is in today’s paper and, in a slightly longer version, below.

Far from ‘strangling one of the world’s most economically vibrant cities’, the Green Belt around London supports its dynamism by concentrating wealth and investment within the city (‘The Green Belt isn’t sacred. Lots of it should be built on’, May 29). I see evidence of this every week from CPRE’s office in Bankside, an area whose regeneration is one of many green belt success stories across London.

There is suitable brownfield land in London for at least 300,000 homes, and new sites or buildings become available all the time; there was more brownfield land in England at the end of the last housing boom than there was at the beginning. If we use this land wisely, we will make London an even better city in which to live and work. If instead we pour money into pouring concrete on the countryside, London will suffer.

Fortunately the Government was elected with a clear mandate to protect the green belt, so rather than debating alternatives such as green wedges (which European evidence suggests are much less effective in preventing urban sprawl) let’s focus on regenerating our towns and cities. As for the quality of London’s Green Belt, most is of high amenity and biodiversity value, as well as important for food-growing. But where the land is of poor quality the solution is simple: improve it.

6 Responses to “The Green Belt: good for cities”

  1. 1 Robert Flunder May 30, 2015 at 10:16 am

    The Times contributors like Ross Clarke are amazingly out of touch.
    If he had bought a competitors paper on 10/3/2015 he would have read :-

    “London does not need to expand beyond its existing limits and can meet all of its housing need on brownfield sites “, the Greater London Authority (GLA) capital’s deputy mayor for planning, Sir Edward Lister, has insisted.
    “We do not need to do a green belt review, we do not need to go outside of London. We believe we can meet our needs within London”, he added.

  2. 2 Lawrence May 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

    But you responded to the usual arguments with the usual rebuttals (“concrete”) so once again the debate is at stalemate. The status quo isn’t working for anyone (other than existing home/land owners) yet CPRE spins this as great housing policy and long may it continue.

    I’m currently commuting 45 miles into London. The green belt and astronomically priced luxury flats do not improve my life in any way. The exact opposite in fact. I’d love to know what percentage of green belt has any sort public access? If it’s more than 5% I’ll buy a hat and eat it.

    Until the CPRE stops the marketing-led campaigning and actually engages in pragmatic, nuanced debate it doesn’t really have a right to be sticking an oar in with fundamentalist conservation policy.

    (Sorry I’m in a bad mood today)

  3. 3 Andrew Needham May 31, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Here in Cheshire the report by ARUP on 82 parcels of land within the Green Belt has been published.

    The contribution of each parcel has been assessed into four categories – major, significant, limited and none. We are preparing a response to this.

  4. 4 CPRE Local Supporter June 8, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    The letter in the ‘Times’ of 30 May shows the problem at CPRE. It’s not bad, though it rather points up that CPRE has its office in Central London, something the public may find odd. However, the Chief Executive writes letters about town planning matters which have an amateur tone. It would be much better if letters to the press were drafted by the professional staff and sent by the Chairman or Vice-Chairman. Then they would have clear reasoning and be in the name of a Trustee of the charity, not the senior paid staff member.

    • 5 sspiers June 10, 2015 at 9:39 am

      CPRE’s office has always been in central London because we are a centralised country and power is concentrated in London. Chief executives(and previous job titles) have always written letters to the Times; it’s one of the things we do. And as far as I know, none of my predecessors was a professional planner. The closest I come to a professional qualification is an MA in War Studies, and I’ve sometimes found it quite useful.

  5. 6 CPRE Local Supporter June 11, 2015 at 1:51 am

    It’s simply that the Green Belt is an important planning tool and has been for over 50 years. The reasoning behind it and how it is used in planning decisions are well-known and not hard to explain by a professional planner. Hence letters drafted by professional staff and signed by one of them or by a Trustee (eg a Vice-Chairman who leads on planning for CPRE) would carry weight and give readers clarity. Shaun Spiers’s letters on planning matters have an amateur tone. It isn’t suggested that he should be a planner, but that someone who is should write such letters – at least sometimes.
    Even if CPRE needs to be in London it doesn’t need to draw attention to it.

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