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DCLG guidance reinforces green belt protection

Words: Laura Edgar

Communities secretary Eric Pickles and housing minister Brandon Lewis have underlined the government view that thousands of brownfield sites are available for housing and should be given development priority.

Fresh guidance published on Monday, 6 October, by the Department for Communities and Local Government discusses how councils should protect green space and keep urban sprawl at bay through their local plans. Once green belt boundaries have been established, they should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, the guidance insists.

Furthermore, it stresses, housing need, including for traveller sites, cannot justify harm to the green belt by inappropriate development.

Other measures released on 4 October to coincide with the guidance, re-emphasise government action taken in 2010 to protect green belt land, including selling brownfield land that is surplus for development.

“This government has been very clear that when planning for new buildings, protecting our precious green belt must be paramount," said Pickles. "Local people don’t want to lose their countryside to urban sprawl, or see the vital green lungs around their towns and cities to unnecessary development.

“Today’s guidance will ensure councils can meet their housing needs by prioritising brownfield sites, and fortify the green belt in their area.”

Lewis added that the government has put local plans at the heart of the planning system so that people can make decisions on which parts of their local area should be developed.

However, Ian Tant, senior partner for Barton Willmore, said it was worrying that the government sees it necessary to issue the new guidance, which “takes the emphasis away from meeting housing needs”. In short, the guidance was a “licence” for districts to fail to meet the housing need and not worry about it, he said.

In a statement to The Planner, Tant explained: “All parties recognise the desperate need to increase our housing supply and the release of adequate land for housing is an essential part of addressing this. It is quite right that, in some areas, physical and other policy constraints might outweigh the ability to meet housing needs in full. But the new guidance appears to omit reference to the vital component that, in drawing up their local plans, such districts should work with their neighbours to identify how the shortfall in need can be made good beyond the boundaries of the constrained district.”

Tant also felt that existing boundaries, some of which were drawn up in the 1960s and 1970s, should be considered for review and change. A positive approach to green belt boundaries should be a key part of planning in order to keep towns and cities alive before rejecting housing and development needs, he said. “Why should a neighbouring authority agree to take on another district's needs if that district hasn't constructively considered whether the boundaries of policy constraints like green belt could be altered?”

Image courtesy of the Department for Communities and Local Government