Blog: 16 April 2018Isn’t it Time the Green Belt Worked Harder?

Four years ago, I was invited by the Landscape Institute to attend a small meeting of Landscape Architects with an interest in Green Belt, on the basis of a blog I wrote entitled ‘Green Belt Policy is not Fit for Purpose - Discuss’.

By 2017 this had evolved into a far bigger discussion, where we as Landscape Architects collectively decided that the Landscape Institute was the professional body that should lead the lobby, calling for a review of a policy which is now nigh on 70 years old. The Landscape Institute’s Green Belt briefing paper is the culmination of that work, the brain child of some of the UK’s best Green Belt specialists.

I once read that Green Belt is the policy the public are the most aware of but know the least about. It’s also the policy the construction industry knows is broken, a fact that politicians don’t seem to want to acknowledge.

While the Green Belt is the proverbial political hot potato, doesn’t the introduction of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provide an opportunity to reignite and revitalise the Green Belt debate? Any attempt to address the deficiencies in the Green Belt policy in the past have been seen as an assault on our countryside, on our green and pleasant land.

Well, finally, someone has broken ranks, has raised their head above the parapet and said what needed to be said. Green Belt policy is out-of-date. Green Belt policy is not fit for the current age. Green Belt needs a face lift.

But before panic ensues, the Landscape Institute is not calling for an end to Green Belt, and the briefing outlines the benefits that the policy has brought over the last 70 years. There are widespread inconsistencies, however, in knowledge amongst the public and policy makers about what Green Belt is and what it is for. There is further inconsistency in the way Green Belt is applied and a lack of a regional or strategic approach, resulting in the piecemeal site-by-site erosion of the Green Belt.

Furthermore, Green Belt, the Landscape Institute states, is from a pre-NPPF world, before the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and is at odds with current evidence-based policy-making. I would add that Green Belt is a negative policy, rather that positively seeking to shape sustainable development patterns.

Green Belt, the Landscape Institute continues, could be so much more. The NPPF sets out that Local Planning Authorities should provide opportunities for increased access, sport and recreation, landscape enhancement and biodiversity habitat provision within Green Belt, yet there is no obligation for this to actually be delivered, and nothing further is added in the revised draft NPPF. The Landscape Institute argues, “there is little doubt that, if re-defined as natural capital, green infrastructure or strategic open space, the transformation and enrichment of the Green Belt land could deliver far greater benefit than the current ‘spatial separation’ designation”.

The Landscape Institute Briefing Note seeks to educate public and policy makers alike as to what Green Belt is and, importantly, what it isn’t. It asks difficult questions, to say what we should all be saying, that Green Belt could and should be better.

It was an exciting moment, when we stood together as specialists in our (green) field, and called for change, called for the Landscape Institute to lead the charge (who better?), to push the conversation that nobody wanted to have: that in a world of sustainable development and climate change, Green Belt could and should work harder for both our communities and our landscapes.

Afterwards, we sat in the pub, drinking our beers, looked at each other and realised that we would look back on this moment as the start of the tide, of the raising of a voice which would say for future generations, ‘we can do better’. I just hope that others have the courage to add their voices too.

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