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Green belt is key natural capital asset, says Helm

Words: Martin Read
Green space / Shutterstock_192153302

The green belt should be preserved and treated as a key part of the country’s natural capital 'asset register', according to the chair of the Natural Capital Committee.

Professor Dieter Helm was speaking at the ‘Green Belt of the Future’ seminar held last week at the GLA building in London.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Helm spoke of observing “decades of an almost entirely fruitless debate between people who think that the economy is on one side of the debate and the environment on the other”.

This, said Helm, was “an entirely sterile debate, and the wrong way to think about the argument; it misses out the enormous opportunities that come by viewing the environment as a key part of the economy".

Linking the need to protect the green belt to the need to define the country’s natural capital assets, Helm explained how natural capital has at its heart the idea that the environment “is a set of assets in overlapping ecosystems that are just as important as any other assets in the economy”.

Defining it as “a hard and measurable concept with proper accounting and balance sheets”, Helm suggested that, like the green belt, “natural capital needs to be situated right next to the people to whom it will provide the maximum benefits.”

At the same event, Janet Askew, director of academic engagement and enhancement at the University of the West of England, gave a passionate defence of the green belt.

“If nothing else,” she said, “we should leave this room today knowing that London has been influential around the world at defining what a compact city is. The green belt is a sustainable policy and it works."

"Those calling for building on green belt were unimaginative, recognising that, for them, building on flat green land is "much better and profitable than dealing with brown.”

While there had never been as much pressure on the green belt as there is now, Askew welcomed the recently published housing white paper for not showing any weakening of government policy towards it.

Joe Kilroy, policy officer at the RTPI, attended the event too and handed out the institute’s practice note on the green belt. It states that “green belt boundaries may well need to change, but only through careful reviews over wider areas than single local authorities, and where safeguards are put in place to ensure that development is sustainable, affordable and deliverable in a timely manner, and without prejudice to the renewal of brownfield land”.  The practice note - Where should we build new homes - can be found here (pdf).

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