Green Belt matters
Every councillor currently and supposedly representing you on Welwyn Hatfield council is telling the media and anyone else listening that “we don’t have a choice”. “If we don’t accept the plans for 12,500 more homes – they will be imposed on us by central government”.
What they actually mean is “it’s a load less effort for us if we accept the plans as presented by the council and pretend that democracy has no part to play in this process”. Well they are wrong. And as local pressure groups such as “Panshanger People” will tell you, their history since 1935 is carefully legislated to and in the main works in favour of local people – not against.
Some facts: the Green Belt is a policy for controlling urban growth. It’s purpose “to resist urbanisation and maintain areas where agriculture, forestry and outdoor leisure can be expected to prevail”.
The Metropolitan Green Belt around London was first proposed in 1935, developed by the Town & Country Planning Act of 1947 and in 1955 the Minister of Housing Duncan Sandy encouraged local authorities to consider protecting land around their towns and cities. The National Planning Policy Framework of March 2012 states 5 purposes of including land within designated Green Belts:
1.to check unrestricted urban sprawl
2.to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another (like Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City)
3.to assist safeguarding countryside from encroachment
4.to preserve character & setting of historic towns and 5.to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling or derelict and other urban land.
Could that not be any clearer? About 1/8th of England is Green Belt today – or some 1.6 million hectares (roughly 2 1/2 acres = 1 hectare). The South East around 1/3 of that total. And for good reason. Here is where it is needed the most.
Indeed in 1971 the then smaller Green Belt was purposefully extended northwards to include almost all of Hertfordshire. The Metropolitan Green Belt now covers parts of nearly 70 Districts and Boroughs. Our 10 in Hertfordshire are shown in the table above.
Some commentators call on the Green Belts total abolition – and cite it as being a “restrictor of home ownership” as through restricting land supply, prices and thus house prices are kept artificially high. These same commentators almost to a man ommit to mention in the same conversation the 5,000,000 estimated economic migrants who do more to push up prices than Green Belts ever had. 95% of UK house price inflation has occurred since 1973.
For me it is more interesting not to point out the flaws of most Green Belt opponents but to combine an exit from the EU as an opportunity to CONTROL migration. Control it to manageable levels. Understand what numbers we will allow over the next 10,20 say 30 years and only THEN plan according. Plan infrastructure, plan hospitals, plan sewers, plan roads, plan schools – and of course yes plan housing too.
If a government that we do not support wants 50,000 – 75,000 – 100,000 new homes, then plan towns and cities that deconcentrate population. Encourage economic growth and investment to the 7/8ths of England that is not, for good reason, protected. It is quite obvious to a 5 year old where regeneration needs to be deployed and re-centred. And it is not London. The 5 year old would tell you to look to the South West, look to the Eastern coasts from Essex to Yorkshire. But unfortunately we dont have a 5 year old in charge. We have David Cameron, all be it not for much longer,
UKIP Welwyn Hatfield’s policy – and that of it’s heavily committed PPC Arthur Stevens – is to resist, is to protest. Is to show these “public servants” that there are alternatives. Better alternatives. Alternatives capable of preserving the spirit intent and purpose of the Green Belt – and its various statutory interpretations. Welwyn Hatfield’s suggestions, their recommendations are of course eminently feasible. But they have approached the problem the wrong way around. The appendix E (set of 16 site maps) is deceptively simple. But look at those plans in detail. And ask yourself is that what we really want, how we consent to this problem of EU manufacture be solved.
What is our preference? Our policy alternative?
Brown field site wherever possible. And we have plenty of those around the constituency. The Shredded Wheat building and surrounding land to name one such space, to the east of Welwyn Garden City station. Leave Panshanger alone and stick the “necessary” 700 homes here. Sure – this will involve telling Tesco and other part owners – that they will never be allowed to build another SuperStore there. And they would be better advised to develop for the interests of the community or better still sell up and move on.
And the sooner the better. More proposals to come.