Basildon Draft Local Plan 2016
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481 hectares of Basildon green belt lost in local plan
As Britain recovered from World War II some foresited planners saw a bright future for our country. New homes were being built in suburbs around London to house the city's growing population, but they did not want the country to disappear under the covering of urban sprawl. Their solution was the green belt, a zone of land around our largest cities that would be forever unspoilt by housing. It reamins a popular idea. Legislation declares that the essential characteristics of the green belt are its openness and its permanence. Every public poll comes out clearly in favour of keeping it that way and all attempts to build on it are fiercely opposed by campaign groups.
The green belt is a huge success. It preserves the heritage of peaceful villages that would otherwise be threatened by the expanding metropolis. Its trees and fields provides the lungs that clear the air. Our abudant rainfall is absorbed into the ground instead of beeing channeled into rivers to cause flooding. It is a haven for our countries wildlife and it is a place nearby where we can go to escape the busy pace of life. Now all of that is threatened. England faces a housing crisis fueled by an underlying population crisis. Consultatnts working for the construction industry have seized the opportunity to promote the idea that the green belt is an outdated concept that has to go so that millions of new homes can be built around our cities. Legislation has kept land values in the green belt low compared to nearby areas that are available for building. Huge profits can be made whenever the status of a piece of green belt is changed to allow housing development. The oublic is not fooled by the lobbying but politicians are. Slowly but surely pressure is mounting under the weight of all the money that waits to be made and our green belt is feeling the squeeze.
The start of the process of green belt loss can be seen in figures for the area of the green belt published by the government. Until 2010 there had been a gradual increase in the area defined by boundaries set by local planning authorities. After a few years of fixed size the decline began and is now accelerating as councils bring out new local plans removing land from the green belt for development. So far the loss is slight, 3000 hectares has been lost, less than 0.2%. To see where this is going you nedd to look at the details of where the land was removed.
The one-way trend is now clear. As local planning authorities introduce more revised local plans over the next two years the loss of grren belt is going to accelerate. There may be an election respite in the figures for next year but as the government applies more pressure with a raft of new plocies designed to force the hands of our councils we can expect worse. When 01.% of grren belt is lost we are reassured that it is insignificant but individual councils are now chucking away 1 or 2 percent at a time. Basildon's local plan will sacrafice a whopping 4% to developers. These figures are supposed to be good for 20 years but already some of the early adopters such as Rochford are looking again at their land supply to see what more can be released from the green belt.
To make the matter worse these figures from changes to the green belt boundary only account for one part of green belt loss. Further losses are occuring as permission is granted to developers to build housing on land still disignated as green belt. Thurrock recently granted permission for houses to be built at Malgraves Farm despite it being a green belt site unconnected to other developments. The same council is promoted a development of 750 houses on green belt near Corringham. Other losses in recent years have been seen within Basildon and Brentwood Boroughs. Over the whole country the number of houses built on green belt in this way has increased dratically in recent years reaching 11977 for 2014-2015. These numbers represent losses of green belt that are completely separate from the changes to green belt boundary.
Until now the amount of green belt lost is small, but it is growing at an alarming rate. Remember that the the green belt is supposed to be permanent, according to government legislation unmet housing need does not constitute the very special circumstances required to justify green belt development. Councils such as Basildon. The government has made it very clear in statments and policies over the last few years since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2011 that the green belt should be protected. When forming local plans councils can use the green belt as a constraint to reduce their housing targets. Basildon has done the opposite. They have set housing targets higher than required and have refused to use constraints to reduce it
The protection spell that has guarded our green belt for decades is in the process of being broken. If the present teends conctinue it will fade into just a memory. We will live in traffic jams, lose wildlife habitats and see more floods and pollution. It is not too late but to hold back the curse we need to all act together and tell our councils that this is an important issue to us.
Further reading: Green Belt myths: CPRE's guide to what you need to know