I read your article on the green belt with interest.
The biggest barrier in getting to grips with the green-belt conundrum is in the name or, more specifically, the word ‘green’. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) promulgates the notion of some bucolic Gainsborough idyll, when the truth of the matter is very different.
Personally, I’m somewhat agnostic about it, preferring to look at the subject of building on suburban land on a rationale based on need, suitability, sustainability and existing infrastructure. Why not? Isn’t that sensible? Especially given the current parlous state of providing affordable homes for Londoners that are actually within striking distance of London. I do lean towards proposals made by the Adam Smith Institute (although without being quite so provocative) and believe the study made by Quod and SERC clearly sets out the true nature of London’s green belt.
However, independent studies are at a premium and both sides of the argument point to vested interests, while the public is left only with the word ‘green’ to guide their judgment - with the inevitable outcome.
The green belt’s chief reason for being, urban sprawl, is not desirable. Nor is the notion of building in and around sensitive areas. But let’s be clear how much of this belt is actually green; 26% of land within this belt is environmentally protected, parkland or otherwise accessible to the public. The rest of it is used for agriculture, golf courses (7%), gravel extraction, older buildings such as hospitals, sewerage treatment works, hard standing, car parks, scrap yards, garden centres, airports and so on, while 2% has been built on.
Let’s call the green belt what it is and what it was intended to be: a development exclusion zone. Let’s look at it rationally. Let’s not be swayed by fanciful green visions of rolling hills or some mythical arboreal nirvana. Let’s be clear about the true nature and quality of this belt of land. Let’s protect what should be protected and get real about the rest.
Richard Berridge, managing director, Blackbird RE