Tighter protection for the Green Belt – with all its implications for future housing – moves up a notch with the prospect of a national register of green-belt being put to Parliament.
Pitched by Tory Sir Christopher Cope, that national register comes with the responsibility for Green Belt protection and maintenance.
In the Commons, Sir Christopher accused his own government of putting pressure on councils to erode the green belt at a local level.
“(The Green Belt) is no longer sacrosanct, and Government policy is to put pressure on local authorities to release land from the green belt through de-designation – effectively allowing developers a free-for-all.
“That cynical policy is promoted by the specious defence of localism (in) trying to transfer responsibility for taking away the green belt to local communities, which are effectively being given no option other than to de-designate their green belt,” Sir Christopher said.
Referencing 5,070 hectares of Green Belt land lost in England in the year to April 1 2018, Sir Christopher said the annual rate of loss was five times as high as the average over the lifetime of the previous Labour Government.
“Thereby giving the lie to the Conservative party being the great protector of the green belt,” he said.
Sir Christopher cited data from his own Christchurch constituency which in 2014 had 3,480 hectares of green-belt land.
“Since then, 210 hectares have been removed -a 7% loss in four years.
“Since 2014, 160 hectares have been lost in East Dorset District Council, which is partly in my constituency.
“Local councils are openly inviting bids from owners of green-belt land to offer it up for de-designation and consequent development, meaning that all green-belt land is now vulnerable to losing its protected status,” he said.
Clause 1 of the Green Belt (Protection) Bill requires greater transparency about the loss of green-belt land, with a national public register of all green-belt land in England, and all land removed from or added to the green belt.
A second clause seeks to remove the incentives for councils to de-designate green-belt land, as it would allow that only if alternative land of the same or greater area was added at the same time.
Replacement land would need to abut land that is already developed, or that has above average density of housing.
“The new green-belt land would increase that amenity for those living adjacent to it.
“Most importantly, the Bill would restrict the density of development on former green-belt land – that would be a disincentive to developers to develop green-belt land rather than brownfield land,” said Sir Christopher.
The Bill is due to read a Second time on Friday, April 5.