Essex feels the pressure of growing Green Belt development plans
The London Green Belt is under siege from development proposals – and Essex is one of the worst-affected counties.
Research by the London Green Belt Council demonstrates the extent of the threat to the countryside in and around the capital, with local authorities planning to allow building on more than 48,000 acres of Green Belt land.
The LGBC study shows that the amount of London’s local countryside targeted for development has more than doubled in the last six years, reinforcing concerns expressed by both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak during the Conservative Party leadership campaign about the growing threat to the Green Belt.
Altogether, the amount of ‘protected’ countryside earmarked for development has more than doubled in only six years, despite its importance to both nature and people’s quality of life.
According to the LGBC report ‘Safe Under Us’? The continued shrinking of London’s local countryside, 2022, there has been a 21 per cent hike in development threats in the last year. The report details the extent of Green Belt loss under Local Plans. It also points out how all the region’s housing needs could easily be met by building on brownfield urban sites instead.
The new report highlights the fact that many councils are still using housing figures based on out-of-date (2014) population and household projections from the Office for National Statistics when more recent and more accurate figures are available that show a marked slowing-down of population increase. In short, far fewer houses are needed than are being planned for.
According to the report, councils in Outer London and the Homes Counties are planning to allow developers to build on some 75 square miles of ‘protected’ Green Belt open spaces – London’s ‘green lung’. This is a totally unnecessary loss of countryside, the report’s authors argue, as more than enough brownfield land is available to meet all of the region’s genuine housing needs, and the number of brownfield sites continues to increase.
Altogether, the amount of Green Belt land offered up for development has increased by 21 per cent since 2021, and a massive 127 per cent since 2016, when the LGBC started tracking threats to London’s local countryside. The counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey account for two-thirds of current development threats to London’s Green Belt.
The report’s authors make a series of recommendations to save the Green Belt that they hope the next Prime Minister will take up:
- The government must direct local authorities to keep all new development away from London’s Green Belt and to prioritise regeneration of brownfield sites
- Local councils must look for opportunities to relocate housing developments planned for Green Belt land to urban areas, building at higher densities
- The Planning Inspectorate must deem Local Plans ‘unsound’ if they are not adjusted for the latest population and housing projections and if planned housing densities are too low.
- Councils must be more proactive in identifying brownfield sites within their areas and must look at opportunities to build above surface car parks and other space-wasting sites.
- Central and local government must work together to protect Green Belt countryside for the sake of people’s health and well-being to fulfil the UK’s nature-recovery and climate-change goals, as well as for water retention and to mitigate urban flooding.
London Green Belt Council chairman Richard Knox-Johnston said: “It is a fallacy that building in the Green Belt will provide affordable homes. New development in the Green Belt is mainly four- or five-bedroomed homes built at very low densities since those are the most profitable for developers to build, so not providing affordable homes for young people.”
He added: “Published data shows there are sufficient brownfield urban sites within these Green Belt districts and boroughs to deliver almost a quarter of a million new homes – enough to replace all the houses now planned for Green Belt land.”