Half of the councils in England with green belt land are preparing to allocate some of it for development whilst brownfield sites throughout the country are overlooked, suggests research published today by the National Trust.
Eighteen months after the Government put in place its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), a Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) survey commissioned by the Trust found that 51 per cent of the councils it surveyed with green belts within their areas said they were now likely or very likely to allocate green belt land for development .
Overall, more than half of the 147 councils that responded to the survey said that their local authority had brownfield sites available that could help meet the five-year housing land supply target, but that these hadn’t been considered viable by developers.
Whilst consulting on the NPPF in 2011, Ministers and the Prime Minister stated firm commitments to protecting the green belt – whilst promoting an explicit brownfield first policy – both of which seem to be coming undone in practice .
These findings confirm evidence from CPRE that the number of houses planned for the green belt has doubled since last year, to 150,000.
Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust, said: “The green belt has been the star feature of British town and country planning for half a century.
“In one of Europe’s most congested countries, it has prevented urban sprawl, protected a vision of widespread rurality and retained access to green spaces for urban dwellers that has been admired worldwide.
“Some councils may want to review their green belt boundaries as has always been possible, but the planning system as a whole should attach a greater weight to protecting green spaces.
“The Government’s definition of ‘sustainable‘ is in practice being interpreted as ‘profitable’, and has effectively killed the former planning presumption in favour of brownfield land.
“What is now happening is a policy of let rip, leading to steady erosion. For the first time in British planning history, planning control is now the slave not the master of profit.”
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGIU, added: “This research shows that the NPPF and targets around housing supply are putting significant strain on councils’ ability to protect green belt.
“It’s crucial that we build more houses but we need to allow local authorities the flexibility to take a strategic view on how this should be managed locally.”
The findings come as new National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG), to be issued by the Government by early next year, could increase the threat to green spaces.
Analysis of the draft NPPG suggests that it could cause local authorities to release more land than is necessary for development in the countryside, including in the green belt.
It also misses the opportunity to strengthen the brownfield first policy.
Further measures announced in the 5 December Autumn statement also look set to increase pressure on local authorities to say ‘yes’ to development by, for example, increasing opportunities for developers to bypass the local planning system and seeking to increase the influence of the New Homes Bonus incentive on planning decisions .
Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said: “What councils are saying is alarming. Green belt has historically been some of the country’s most protected green space, and the NPPF was supposed to continue that protection.
“We need more homes and, if agreed in approved local plans, some of these may be built on previously undeveloped land, but the priority should remain brownfield first.
“The Prime Minister and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles have always made clear their desire to protect the green belt but this is not what the NPPF appears to be delivering on the ground.
“We are calling on the Government to amend its new guidance to ensure the planning system delivers on the Government’s promise to deliver a ‘brownfield first’ policy, and to reaffirm its commitment to protect valued green spaces from development.”
For further information please contact Mike Collins on 01793 817708, 07900 138 419 Mike.Collins@nationaltrust.org.uk or the National Trust Press Office on 0844 800 4955.
Notes to editors
More information on the research findings is in the media briefing document available from the press office.
 The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) carried out a survey of local authorities in summer 2013. The LGIU received responses from 147 senior officers and local politicians responsible for public parks, green spaces and planning. Of those, 59 respondents had green belt in their local authority area and were asked the question: “please rate the likelihood that your authority will allocate green belt land for development in the next five years”. There are 186 local authorities in England with green belt.
 When the NPPF was drawn up in September 2011, the Prime Minister wrote to the National Trust, stating that: “…our beautiful British landscape is a national treasure.“ David Cameron also said: “..we must ensure the appropriate protections for our magnificent countryside. This is why our reforms will maintain protections for the green belt…”
 In October 2012, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, told the Conservative Party conference: “Protecting the character of the countryside is stamped deep into the heart of Conservatism. And let me tell you – the green belt plays a vital role in stopping urban sprawl and we will protect it.”
In August 2013 in an answer to a question on safeguarding green belt protections, Planning Minister Nick Boles told parliament: “The coalition agreement explicitly states that we will maintain green belt protection. The green belt has a valuable role protecting against urban sprawl and providing a green lung round our towns and cities.”
He added: “The National Planning Policy Framework, which safeguards national green belt protection, explains how the green belt serves to:
- check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
- prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another;
- assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
- preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
- assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.”
Last week’s Autumn Statement and National Infrastructure Plan contained a series of planning-related measures. They included plans to:
- Withhold the New Homes Bonus where local authorities have objected to the development, and planning approval is granted on appeal.
- Increase opportunities for developers to bypass the local planning system and apply directly to the Government for approval where local councils take longer to make decisions.
- Limit the amount of time before which councils must discharge planning conditions.
The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 742 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/