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State of the Green Belt 2021

The openness of our countryside, Crichel, East Dorset The openness of our countryside, Crichel, East Dorset © Paul Sturgess

25th February 2021

The latest edition of CPRE's regular report on the Green Belt shows that pressures that put it at risk have quadrupled since 2013 – just as our new poll shows how much we value these local treasures.

National CPRE’s 2021 State of the Green Belt report shows that right now, there are a quarter of a million homes planned to be built on Green Belt land – a rise of 475% since 2013. See link to report at the end of this article.

And right alongside this worrying news, a CPRE poll of adults across the country shows that two-thirds of adults think that protecting and enhancing our green spaces should be a higher priority after lockdown. This shows just how much communities would suffer if these local patches of green are lost.

Affordable homes: still missing

Despite a surge in demand for time in green space, the Green Belt – the countryside next door for 30 million people - is facing extreme and sustained pressure, according to new research from CPRE, the countryside charity. The annual State of Green Belt 2021 report reveals there are currently 0.25 million (257,944) homes proposed to be built on land removed from the Green Belt – over four times as many (475% increase) as in 2013. With only one in ten considered affordable, these new homes will do little to tackle the affordable housing crisis.

This pressure is only set to increase under damaging changes to the planning system currently being considered by the government – the analysis reveals the new formula to determine housing supply proposed by the government could lead to at least a 35% increase in housing on the Green Belt. The report highlights a number of local case studies where increased pressure on Green Belts is leading to the loss of valuable open land for local communities.

This huge loss of countryside near where people live is in direct contradiction to overwhelming demand for access to quality time in green space and nature. A new poll, conducted by Opinium on behalf of CPRE, shows a surge in appreciation for local green spaces since the first lockdown, much of which are located in our Green Belts, and found that:

  • Over two thirds (67%) of adults think protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority after lockdown;
  • Nearly half (46%) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown – a dramatic 11 percentage point increase since April 2020;
  • 59% reported they are more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and wellbeing since lockdown.

Commenting on the findings, Peter Bowyer, Chair of Trustees at Dorset CPRE said:

‘The housing targets proposed in the Dorset Local Plan are way in excess of any sensible forecast of local housing need. The Local Plan approach gives insufficient recognition of or respect for Dorset’s exceptional landscapes, wildlife and heritage, including but not only the many protected areas and designations, including Green Belts in East Dorset. Meeting housing need appears to be the main 'exceptional circumstance' asserted by Dorset Council to justify building in the Green Belt.

However, in a 16th December 2020 statement, following earlier consultation on proposed “Changes to the current planning system”, the government states:

Within the current planning system, the standard method does not present a ‘target’ in plan-making, but instead provides a starting point for determining the level of need for the area, and it is only after consideration of this, alongside what constraints areas face, such as the Green Belt, and the land that is actually available for development, that the decision on how many homes should be planned for is made. It does not override other planning policies, including the protections set out in Paragraph 11b of the NPPF or our strong protections for the Green Belt. It is for local authorities to determine precisely how many homes to plan for and where those homes most appropriately located. In doing this they should take into account their local circumstances and constraints.'

The Government response also states:

'More broadly, we heard suggestions in the consultation that in some places the numbers produced by the standard method pose a risk to protected landscapes and Green Belt. We should be clear that meeting housing need is never a reason to cause unacceptable harm to such places.'

'We call on the Dorset Council to recognise that rural Dorset does not have the capacity for development on the scale proposed without undue harm to our communities and to Dorset’s environment and heritage – our greatest economic asset.'

Our lifeline in lockdown

Our chief executive, Crispin Truman, has commented on the report, calling these green spaces and local countryside our ‘lifeline through lockdown’ and the growing level of threat as ‘extremely worrying.’ Crispin calls on the government to take note of the public passion for green spaces and focus energies on protecting the countryside as they make changes to the rules that govern our planning system. ‘The public is crying out for more access to nature, green space and countryside – it’s time ministers realised this and put people and nature at the heart of their changes to the planning system.’

Nature, people, and previously-used land first

At CPRE, we recognise the urgent need for more affordable homes and argue that the way to do this is to make best use of land that’s been built on previously (sometimes called brownfield land) before even considering development on the Green Belt.

Despite evidence that there’s already enough space on previously used land (known as brownfield) and other land already granted planning permission for the government to reach its housing targets for the duration of this parliament, the government’s current plans for changes to the planning rules would increase pressure on the Green Belt even more.

Want to push back on these planning changes and ensure that your local green space is kept for the future? Add your voice to ours by becoming a CPRE member, or signing up to hear from us each month with news on our campaigning work.

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