The momentum behind the Green Belt debate has been gathering for some time across the UK and with the Landscape Institute recently consulting its members on the key issues, it is good to see that we within the landscape profession have an opportunity to feed in our knowledge and expertise. The consultation will have no doubt revealed a wide spectrum of opinions across a profession that is regularly engaging with the realities, implications and application of Green Belt policies in the context of an understanding and (one would assume) appreciation of the landscape.
It strikes me as increasingly absurd that the current government refuses to meaningfully engage in this debate, particularly in the context of the priority that is being given to the inextricably linked housing crisis. However, it is not surprising that debating the Green Belt is seen as a politically poisonous issue. Green Belt is arguably one of the most controversial aspects of planning policy, with emotions running very high. Typically, views are therefore polarised for or against, you either want to preserve every square metre, or you are seeking to concrete over it all.
I would really welcome a debate that considers the history and function of the Green Belt, how it has been applied, and evaluate its success, failures and consequences. This does not diminish the potential value of the Green Belt as a place (albeit Green Belt policy is ultimately a mechanism, and not in fact a place), rather it will enable us to ensure that the policy, together with many others, shapes our cities, towns and villages in the best way possible, avoiding unforeseen circumstances and consequences.
The unintended consequences of Green Belt policy are worrying, directing development away from sustainable locations, or to landscapes that are more sensitive to new development and have less capacity to accommodate them. This could potentially choke the towns they are ostensibly ‘protecting’, whilst adding fuel to the housing crisis and rising house prices.
One of the reasons I love living in cities is the myriad of historic town and village centres and the neighbourhoods that make them up. They offer the best of both worlds: being part of a global, dynamic place whilst living within a neighbourhood with a sense of community, identity and history at a more manageable, intimate scale. However, this very phenomenon could also be characterised as ‘undesirable urban sprawl and merging’, to use the language of the purposes of the Green Belt.
During my time living in London, the Green Belt did not provide me with access to the countryside and recreational land, as it was simply too remote. Instead, I made use of the parks and spaces within the city, or left the city in search of the countryside. In any city or town, it is the full range of open spaces and public realm that enhance people’s wellbeing and access to open space. Our towns and cities are best shaped by a range of policies creating and protecting different types of open space, which includes Green Belt at a strategic level.
By engaging in a rational debate about Green Belt across all sectors, we will be able to ensure that Green Belt policy is appropriate to meet current development pressures and allow sufficient flexibility to meet future needs, to promote sustainable growth. We can ensure that the things we value and need from the natural environment, countryside and open space are delivered and safeguarded. This will enable us to consider alternative forms and challenge assumptions about the form of Green Belt, beyond those that the word “belt” evokes.
As a landscape architect, I believe it is the purpose of my profession to find the synergy between protecting and enhancing the landscape that forms the context and setting to our lives, thus creating and shaping the places and infrastructure that enable us to live within that landscape. I am not anti-development. Despite my deep love of open space, I appreciate the way that people shape, transform and layer the landscape.
Please, we need to talk.
Read more on the Landscape Institute Consultation here.
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