What is the Greenbelt?

Green Belt WM
The following article, published on the BBC website: Affordable homes on green belt ‘a lie’ say campaignersmight be of interest.

The West Midlands Greenbelt is like a ‘doughnut’ of countryside around the West Mids conurbation.  With regards to Bridgnorth, the countryside between Wolverhampton and Bridgnorth is all greenbelt and it ends at the Hermitage Ridge, the gateway into Bridgnorth.  Land the other side of Bridgnorth e.g. Tasley is greenfield, but not greenbelt, an important distinction.  Greenbelt land refers to an area that is kept in reserve for an open space, most often around larger cities. The main purpose of greenbelt policy is to protect the land around larger urban centres from urban sprawl, and maintain the designated area for forestry and agriculture as well as to provide habitat to wildlife.

Established in 1955, the West Midlands Greenbelt covers a land area of: 231,291 hectares.  A relatively high proportion of land is in agricultural use and is of the best and most versatile quality, and 5,917 ha of the West Midlands Green Belt coincides with land designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Unfortunately, most of the landscape is “diverging” or “transforming” in character – which means it’s eroding, what it’s used for is changing, or it is under pressure for development. In short, it is under threat.

The Greenbelt serves five purposes:

a) to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
b) to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
c) to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
d) to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
e) to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Pages 40 – 43 of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework pertaining to Protection of the Greenbelt are well worth a read.

The Council is not allowed to remove land from the Greenbelt without a detailed and measured Greenbelt Review into the value of this land as Greenbelt, and it has to provide assurances that the land to be removed is the “lowest quality” locally in terms of its contribution to meeting the stated aims of the greenbelt.  As you will have read elsewhere on this site, we already know that this is high quality open agricultural land, a large portion of it adjacent to a distinctive sandstone ridge of ancient woodland, and the council’s own report says, this “Greenbelt parcel is playing a strong role preventing encroachment of the countryside”.  If you like us are not convinced that the Council is being transparent in explaining the ‘exceptional circumstances’ for this land grab, then it is important to get involved with our campaign, and to say so, in letters to your MP, and in the second stage public consultation when it opens in late autumn.

Councils are under pressure from Government to build more houses, to tackle a very real and pressing national shortage.  Only the worst NIMBY would disagree with any and all development, and Bridgnorth does need a plan that finds a solution for its local housing needs.  Whether this current proposed Local Plan is the right plan or if indeed the removal of Greenbelt land on such an unprecedented scale is warranted is the question you need to answer.

The justification the council are using in this case is ‘exceptional circumstances’ – economic growth and affordable housing for local people.  But is it really?

Interestingly, the Shropshire Branch of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) have looked at Shropshire’s Preferred Sites Consultation for the county and  the Council’s claims that 28,000 new homes are needed, and they conclude:

  • Only about 18,000 houses are genuinely needed.  Any targets beyond that 18,000 are pandering to perceived demand, not satisfying genuine need (because “need” can be a misconstrued term, CPRE National Office has produced a paper, Needless Demand (see here – 6MB) which argues for a clearer distinction between what is genuine need, and what is aspirational demand). The Council believes it must at least satisfy the Government’s controversial new calculation of 25,400 dwellings, but all the options it offered were well above that figure.  If it did adopt that figure, it might satisfy the electorate.
  • The Council’s calculations of employment land requirement are probably double what is needed.  Accordingly, there is not really the claimed “balance” between employment land and housing figures. The question about this that we put to Cabinet on 2nd May had to be followed up by a Freedom of Information request.  That revealed that one of their calculations of required employment land was overstated by 250%!
  • Not enough emphasis is placed on increasing the stocks of affordable/social housing, or housing for the ageing population.  It is welcome news that the documents presented to Cabinet on 7th November 2018 included one proposing that the Council sets up a “vehicle” to build houses itself, with a greater proportion being affordable.
  • The designation of Hubs and Clusters remains questionable. The Council has promised to publish its updated scoring system soon.
  • The strategy does not represent sustainable development.  It will increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Council’s reasons for over-riding what members of the public and Town & Parish Councils said in the first two rounds of consultation remain questionable.  In launching its Economic Growth Strategy before the first consultation had ended, it changed the basis of its “offer”.

Our challenge is not to be out-manoeuvred in allowing a plan to be waved through that – despite all the fine words and fancy consultation documents – won’t deliver on its promises, won’t solve the housing issues of local people, won’t generate money that is spent here, and is not in the public interest.  There are £££millions at stake here, and powerful landowners, developers and politicians are involved.  It would be utterly appalling if judgement on planning issues was in any way affected by the need for a Council in financial difficulty to generate more money.  A council should not wreck local communities and beautiful landscapes if making money is part of a hidden agenda.  So, when making up your mind about this proposal, ask yourself, ‘who is driving this?’ And ‘who benefits?’.