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A plea for the Green Belt

The current debate about housing is reaching panic levels. This is always a concern because panic does not result in good legislation or good governance. To what extent are powerful lobbies are influencing the debate? Are they using the justified anxiety about housing bubbles and low new build numbers to push for Green Belt development?
By Bridget Bouch

May 2014: I should put my own personal cards on the table. I am a Green Belt Luddite – yep, I think it’s a really good thing. More than that, I think the Green Belt concept is vital to our well-being and should be protected in perpetuity.

The benefits of green space to the well-being of society and individuals are well documented. Take, for instance, this Faculty of Public Health document about the important health benefits that green spaces deliver. And this is just one instance from the mountains of similar research studies that exist out there.

I am not ignoring the housing crisis – just seeking to set some parameters on how we deal with it. Of course, I don’t have a concrete solution – I am not a politician. But here are some thoughts on the matter.My view is we need a strategic approach – one that doesn’t include ploughing up agricultural land and building on it. Why not commit to finding infill solutions on brown field sites and utilising the thousands of empty homes in the UK as a first step?

The Homes from Empty Homes charity records the numbers of registered empty homes in England, currently there are 635,127 – this does not include Scotland and Wales.

The good news is that this the lowest level ever recorded because action is being taken to put empty properties back into use. But, I read recently there are more empty homes in Oxfordshire than people on the waiting list, clearly there is still some way to go…

As for brownfield development, we could do worse than follow the American example. The USA Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has a Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program that is “designed to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields.”

The EPA states  “Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, facilitates job growth, utilizes existing infrastructure, takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land, and both improves and protects the environment.”

All of this may not be enough. The Green Belt might have to be built on.

But, surely it is worth taking a serious look – as a society – to see if we can preserve the Green Belt for a couple more generations to enjoy.

Once it has gone, we can’t get it back.

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