Green Belt under threat once again

4 September 2012

Planning proposals put Green Belt under threat

A report today revealed government proposals for more than 35 developments on protected land. This has sparked new concerns about Tory plans for green-belt areas in rural England. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has exposed the mounting pressure facing local authorities to disregard countryside planning laws, by building 81,000 homes in green-belt areas. The proposals have caused serious concern for social, economic and environmental reasons. The Green Party are offering a sensible and coherent alternative.

Unfortunately these latest government proposals merely represent the latest in a series of policy U-turns by the coalition. Last week’s borrowing figures further underlined the failure of an economic plan of spending cuts and austerity. Facing a shrinking economy and an increasing deficit, the Tory’s have abandoned ‘Plan A’ in a last minute scramble to kick-start growth. This lack of strategic planning amounts to short-sighted and opportunistic policy-making, endangering the long-term future of much of England’s remaining countryside. The Green Party instead call for meaningful consultation of all stakeholders involved in land-use planning, handing power back to the people who the decisions will affect the most.

The further loosening of planning laws is putting pressure on the Green Belt, handing power to developers committed to profit rather than benefiting local communities. Green Party members ranging from Oxford to Essex have complained to us of local assemblies being bullied into fast-tracking development plans. While regional planning authorities were extinguished, their outdated calculations and targets have been maintained, and there is at present no authority responsible for reviewing those figures. The Green Party instead argue for increased power to local councils; this will allow them to enforce their own decisions to prevent developers from ignoring their rulings and recommendations. This will also ensure the right balance between social welfare, economic sense, and environmental protection can be reached.

However, the new housing rules are part of a wider housing problem facing the country.  Over the past decade the price of the average home increased by 94% while wages rose by just 29%, according to National Housing Federation figures, meaning that properties are increasingly unaffordable for the majority of people. This is accompanied by a decreasing availability of council housing as successive governments have failed to build new social properties. Meanwhile there are those who are salaried out of council housing but unable to buy a property. The result of this awful mix is 4.5 million people in temporary, unsuitable homes. It is important that whatever housing is built goes to those most need it. The Greens have long argued for the renovation of the 720,000 empty properties in the UK. In addition to the cheaper economic costs of simply connecting the dots, this would reduce growing waiting lists, regenerate struggling communities and avoid sacrificing our ever-precious countryside.   Unfortunately nonsensical planning laws (such as 20% VAT on renovations compared with VAT free new-builds) often inhibit this.

The Green Party believe that a larger number of social housing will provide people with a greater choice of property, creating diverse, grown-up communities and ending the hold that profit-driven landlords hold over their tenants. Sensible housing policy through consultation, strengthened local councils, and renovation of empty homes will prevent further damage to our environment will ensuring that good-quality, affordable housing goes to those who need it most.

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