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State of the Green Belt 2023: A Vision for the 21st Century

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

17th August 2023

Green Belt is the indispensable solution to climate, nature and food security challenges, says CPRE

  • Planning, farming and forestry policies need integrating in countryside closest to where people live so that it can protect towns and cities against climate change and enhance nature
  • New farming subsidies that will pay for environmental improvements should cover at least half of Green Belt land 
  • Acute housing crisis in the countryside means small rural exception sites consisting entirely or primarily of affordable and social housing should be encouraged on the edge of villages within the Green Belt 
The Green Belt is being overlooked as a pivotal solution to climate change, the decline of nature and food security vulnerabilities, a new report from CPRE, the countryside charity, shows. 
The report argues that the Green Belt, which protects 12.5% of England’s land area from development, should become greener, wetter and more biodiverse. 
Rewiggled streams, new wetlands, restored peatlands, expanded woodland and revived hedgerows could help the countryside around towns and cities soak up more water to protect urban areas from increased floods, droughts and other natural disasters. Food security could be strengthened by creating nature corridors that link rewilding projects with farmland and encouraging people to buy food produced locally that enhances the environment where they live. Tourism and recreation should be encouraged, with better footpaths, facilities and public transport links, so that people get maximum benefit from the improved environment. 
  • Doubling the amount of Green Belt farmland covered by Environmental Land Management schemes, from the current 28% to over half; 
  • Creating 350,000 hectares overall of new woodland and wetland close to urban areas, in line with recommendations from the Natural Capital Committee;
  • The proposed Land Use Framework integrate planning, farming and forestry policies and programmes to protect and enhance the countryside close to where people live, particularly in and around our largest towns and cities. 
  • Publish supporting planning practice guidance, underpinned by publicly available and regularly updated data on building rates for large development sites. These can help prevent unnecessary development of Green Belt sites, and also allow the public to see whether the claims made by developers to support Green Belt release have been justified in practice. 
The report highlights the need to improve transport links, recreation and tourism in the Green Belt. There is greater need than ever for it to fulfil the founding promise of access to green space, nature and cultural heritage for the populations of nearby towns and cities. 
An acute need for more affordable and social housing means rural communities living within the Green Belt should be able to develop small rural exception sites on the edge of villages – even when it is on greenfield land – to accommodate local needs, the report recommends. 
But it finds the wrong homes are being built in the wrong places for the wrong people. A sample of thirteen large schemes recently completed or currently being built on former Green Belt land found that only five percent of the housing built was social housing. Also, consistently less affordable housing overall was provided than was called for by local planning policy. 
An analysis of the development of land either within the Green Belt, or removed through boundary changes since 2009 so that it could be developed, found that overall Green Belt policy continues to be effective, but also that significant amounts of development are taking place:    
  • Just under 208,000 houses in the local planning pipeline awaiting construction;
  • An average of 220 planning applications for large developments of more than ten houses submitted, and at least 9,000 houses built, each year since 2009; 
  • Only 12.5% of houses were delivered at affordable or social rents; 
  • Brownfield land was marginally more likely to be developed than greenfield land – but in the last two years that trend has flipped, with the majority of land developed now greenfield. 
Commenting on the findings, Peter Bowyer, Chair of Trustees at Dorset CPRE said:
'This report is both timely and important. The government needs to commit, in planning policy, to protect and enhance the Green Belt. This would show it is serious about ‘brownfield first.’ It would also demonstrate its recognition of the enormous value to health and wellbeing of the countryside around our towns and cities.'
'Dorset CPRE strongly opposes the re-drawing of the Green Belt to allow housing developments. Wisely Green Belt areas have been protected from development for the benefit of succeeding generations, yet pressure from Government targets and developers threatens that protection. Meeting housing need appears to be the main 'exceptional circumstance' asserted by Dorset Council to justify building in the Green Belt. Dorset Council has already granted permission for 13,000 homes to be built in Dorset that have yet to be constructed (amounting to about 10 years’ of future growth), so we campaign for that land to be used first.'

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