Chiltern Society asks Government to clear up Green Belt confusion

The Chiltern Society has asked the Government to clear up the confusion about whether councils should plan to allow developers to build housing estates in Green Belt.

A number of local authorities in the Chilterns are currently considering that they may need to redraw Green Belt boundaries as they prepare new Local Plans which will indicate where future housing will go. Many feel they have no choice because the Government is expecting them to accommodate tens of thousands of extra houses in the coming years, but, the councils say, the amount of “unprotected” land simply isn’t available.

Housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis told planning authorities just before Christmas that Green Belt could be a legitimate reason for setting housing targets below the “objectively assessed need”.

And new guidance provided for planning authorities in the autumn conceded that Green Belt may restrain the ability of a local authority to meet its housing need.

“The Government appears to be changing its emphasis regarding the Green Belt because previously the priority seemed to be for councils to build the number of houses it was deemed necessary to build while protected areas such as Green Belt seemed to take a lower priority,” said Tom Rodwell, chairman of the Chiltern Society’s planning campaign group.

“Councils, environment groups and housing developers needclear, unequivocal advice from the Government about where the Green Belt stands in its list of priorities.

“The problem is particularly acute for councils in the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire areas that make up the Chilterns.The area is susceptible to housing pressure because of its attractiveness and closeness to London, but at the same time it has the ChilternsArea of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many areas of Green Belt which are specifically there to protect landscape and stop urban sprawl.”

He added: “The Government expects councils to meet large housing demands while at the same time expecting them to preserve protected land like Green Belt. It is offering no clear advice at all on how the planning authorities should balance these competing priorities and in our experience it is throwing planning departments throughout the area into confusion.

“Therefore, as an independent charity concerned about preserving countryside as well as providing places for people to live, we are asking Eric Pickles, as the Secretary of State responsible for the guidance, to clear up the confusion once and for all. We’re also sending copies of our letter to each local authority in the Chilterns and asking them to support our request.”