I am today criticising a report by Natural England which suggests that the blanket protection of England’s green belt land be scrapped in favour of opening up land for development. Comments by the government body’s chief executive Helen Phillips on this are a real step backward.
In Natural England‘s ‘State of the Natural Environment Report‘ report, Dr. Phillips claims that the buffer zones to curb urban sprawl have been neglected, offering little benefit to wildlife and little accessibility for the public. She went on to suggest that rather than preventing new housing from being built on the green belt surrounding cities and towns, it was time to find ‘better uses‘ for green belt land.
The Green Party is already fighting Government imposed unsustainable development targets of over half a million more homes in the Eastern Region, as well as Labour plans to centralise strategic decision making, largely removing elected councillors from the process. Proposals to relax green belt protection will add to the pressure on the countryside.
Dr. Phillips’ comments are confusing and contradictory. While she rightly states that we need to find new ways to manage our natural environment to help countryside and wildlife survive, she also seems to suggest that we need to scrap green belt protection and open up large swathes of England’s green belt land to development.
This is a misguided and dangerous precedent. Some areas of green belt land have been neglected and wildlife is indeed at risk, but this is not an excuse to send in the bulldozers for yet more urban development. This is an ideal opportunity for the Government and local councils to rethink their approach to the nation’s green land management in a truly sustainable way.
We are already seeing creeping urban sprawl into the countryside. Gordon Brown’s eco-towns are being built to supposedly strict environmental standards, yet many are just Trojan Horses for developers to get their hands on more countryside, damaging the natural environment with miles of new roads, thousands of new cars and a whole new urban infrastructure that will lead to greater pollution, greater congestion and an even greater threat to wildlife.
There are almost a million empty properties around the UK that are ripe for sustainable regeneration. There is an urgent need to bring into re-use brownfield sites suitable for redevelopment. And the Government needs to radically rethink its housing policy, to deliver much higher proportions of affordable homes and to give councils the powers to require developers to install renewable energy and the highest standards of efficiency.
It is crucial for the environment and for people that England’s green belt remains under protection.