Erosion of Green Belt in the South East
The Government’s current approach regarding the Green Belt in the South East is not sustainable. It should place greater emphasis on urban regeneration, and as a matter of urgency, re-open the debate with local communities whose very existence is being strangled by the continued development of the Green Belt.
In March 2001 the Government finally confirmed RPG9, the new Regional Planning Guidance for the South East. The importance of this document to the future of regional housing development in the South East cannot be over-estimated, as this new planning guidance sets out the framework for the preparation of local authority development plans up to and including 2016. RPG9 in its final form concluded that provision of housing development in the South East should be 39,000 units each year up to and including 2006. Between 2006 and 2016 this figure could rise to 43,000 units per year.
These proposed yearly figures have huge implications for local authorities, and most importantly local communities, throughout the South East. My own County, Hertfordshire, is still grappling with the enormity of the new housing requirements. In short, Government targets in Hertfordshire will require new houses to be built at a rate of 3,280 units per year. This equates to almost 50,000 additional houses by 2016. Or by way of comparison, the building of another new settlement the size of Hitchin and Stevenage in Hertfordshire by 2016!
One has to ask the question, where can all these houses be located? Yes, RPG9 espouses the worthy intention of building up to 60% of these new homes on brownfield sites. But whilst brownfield development might be possible to implement in urban and industrial areas, how easily might we in a County like Hertfordshire find the necessary number of sites?
In response to the Governments consultation on proposed housing distribution Hertfordshire County Council stated that it disagrees strongly with the Governments assertion that it will be possible to achieve the overall rate of provision without using more green field land. Hertfordshire County Council continued by noting that it was particularly alarmed about the damaging implications for the further erosion of the Green Belt.
The Green Belt in Hertsmere, like other districts, is under constant pressure. Proposals for development on green fields are regularly put forward, often with apparently worthy justification behind them. The problem, however, is that if planners accepted every worthy application put forward, there soon would not be any Green Belt left in Hertsmere.
To take one example, firm proposals are afoot at a Green Belt site in Bushey to develop a Park and Ride scheme, which would serve the Harlequin retail centre in Watford. Whilst Park and Ride schemes might be a good idea in themselves, this particular proposal would involve the loss of a particularly large and important area of Green Belt, much valued by the local people of Bushey.
In my own opinion, and also the opinion of our Member of Parliament James Clappison, a development such as this Park and Ride cannot, and should not, be justified within the Green Belt. (Not withstanding that the Government has just released new planning guidance (PPG13; an amendment of PPG2) stating that Park and Ride is now not inappropriate development in the Green Belt). Such a development is quite clearly at odds with the principles of the Green Belt.
There can be no doubt that RPG9 will create pressure to build on the Green Belt in the longer term. In a borough like Hertsmere, many of the more obvious brownfield sites have already been earmarked for development. Quite clearly, the greater the housing provision Hertsmere is expected to make by Government, the greater the need will be to incorporate development which will directly affect the character of existing urban areas, whilst also driving forward proposals for Green Belt development.
And this is all before we consider the Infrastructure implications of increased housing concentrations. Where will the residents of these new dwellings send their children to school? Where will these new residents find places at the local medical surgery? Has there been any serious consideration of how a limited road network might satisfy increased levels of car movements?
The targets contained in RPG9 are on such a scale that there can be no doubt of a serious long-term threat to our Green Belt. The forced erosion of our environment proposed in RPG9 will inevitably mean that huge swathes of the South Easts countryside will disappear under concrete. This giant concrete-jungle will deprive generations to come of open spaces and quite definitely impact negatively on resident’s quality of life.
The Governments current approach regarding the Green Belt in the South East is not sustainable. It should place greater emphasis on urban regeneration, and as a matter of urgency, re-open the debate with local communities whose very existence is being strangled by the continued development of the Green Belt.
Dr Spencer Pitfield