The Green Belt: its value is obvious but it needs protecting more than ever, says new report

Beautiful Essex is a treasured asset for millions

Lying next to London, Essex is of course well served by the capital’s Green Belt.
A report by a cross-party Parliamentary group shows that London’s Metropolitan Green Belt not only protects against urban sprawl but also provides vital countryside on our doorstep for health and well-being. Benefits include:
• 26, 267 hectares of Sites of Special Scientific Interest
• 5,400 hectares of local nature reserves
• 44 per cent of London’s Wildlife Trust sites
• 10,000 km of public rights of way for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders
• An area of which almost a quarter (24%) is designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
A new report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Green Belt shows that the London Metropolitan Green Belt (LMGB) not only protects against urban sprawl, it’s also the ‘countryside on our doorstep’, containing much of the capital’s natural reserves and wildlife, which is vital for Londoners and those in neighbouring counties to spend time in for their health and well-being.
The findings by the group of MPs in their report A Positive Vision for London’s Green Belt show that the LMGB is home to public rights of way used by walkers and cyclists, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Wildlife Trust sites and open farmland – all of which provide important long-term benefit for all those living in and around the capital.
Findings highlight the value of ‘green-prescribing’ and the positive impact of the Green Belt on people’s mental health, physical well-being, local food production and the capital’s ability to address the climate emergency, such as supporting the targets set out in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
However, despite these benefits, research also shows that the purpose of London’s Green Belt is under threat from new housing development. There are advanced plans for some 100,000 houses – with more than double this number in the planning pipeline – yet “little evidence that any of these homes will be ‘affordable homes’ for key workers, young people and young families”.
This is even though there is space for well over 280,000 homes on previously developed brownfield land within Greater London alone.
The report recommends bold new measures to protect the Green Belt for those living in and around the capital:
• An advisory council be set up to conduct a comprehensive review of the LMGB and create a 25-year strategy for its future, following the objectives set out in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan
• Funding be provided on the same basis as that for National or Regional Parks to improve the landscape, biodiversity, water retention and carbon sequestration abilities of the LMGB to ensure it delivers multiple benefits for local communities
• Action be taken to ensure that everyone in and around London, and further afield, feels able to access the benefits of the countryside close at hand
• A review of the National Policy Planning Framework to ensure that the Green Belt is better protected from inappropriate development.
MP Crispin Blunt MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for London’s Green Belt, said: “The APPG for London’s Green Belt was set up in response to the rapidly increasing pressure for development on Green Belt land that has escalated over the last few years and is now reaching a crisis point.
“As a society, we have to decide whether or not we value the Green Belt sufficiently to prevent its erosion and subsequent disappearance in the coming decades. We have chosen to focus on the positive benefits of London’s Green Belt as we want these to complement its importance as the central defence against urban sprawl. Once Green Belt has been developed, it is impossible to get it back again.”
Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive, said: “Green Belts provide a huge opportunity to help us in our efforts to address the climate emergency and wildlife crisis while supporting the improved health and well-being of people living and working in and around London, which is continually being ignored.
“Now is the time to take new and bold action to keep this valuable green resource for future generations.”
He was supported by Richard Knox-Johnston, chair of the London Green Belt Council: “Accessible open countryside adjoining urban London has a vital role to play in assisting in the climate emergency, improving health and well-being, giving opportunities for recreation and providing fresh and nutritious food close to the city centre.
“At present, there is no overall organisation with responsibility for the use of land in London’s Green Belt that would be able to create a long-term strategy for its beneficial use and protection.
“We need a clear vision and strategy for London’s Green Belt to ensure it can provide its important resource for those living and working in and around London.”

  • You can read the report A Positive Vision for London’s Green Belt here