Threats to London’s Green Belt, part of which lies in Kent, have doubled in just a year.
A report published today (Monday, October 9) identifies more than 400 sites earmarked for housing development in the Green Belt, a stretch of land around the city designated to remain essentially undeveloped and to contain urban sprawl into the surrounding countryside.
The report, The Accelerating Loss of London’s Green Belt – Who is to Blame?, reveals that the number of sites under threat from development more than doubled between July 2016 and July 2017, from 203 to 443, and the number of houses proposed on the London Green Belt increased from 123,528 to 163,474.
The counties facing the greatest development threats are Hertfordshire (44,974 houses proposed for Green Belt sites), Surrey (41,760) and Essex (35,674).
Any idea that Kent is getting off lightly, however, is mistaken. The deceptively small number of reported threats from LPAs (local planning authorities) in the county is likely to reflect slow progress with Local Plans rather than authorities working harder to defend protected land.
LPAs in Kent such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells, which are constrained by both Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are still in the early stages of Local Plan preparation. It is apparent, however, that the Green Belt in these areas is under great pressure.
Both LPAs have put forward their Issues and Options documents for consultation, making it clear that Green Belt land will be allocated for development, although it is not yet known to what scale.
The document – from the London Green Belt Council, a group of some 100 organisations that campaign against development on Green Belt land and represent more than 50,000 people – is published alongside an updated Threats to London’s Green Belt Map showing the locations of threatened sites.
It comes as the government is consulting on a new approach to calculating local housing need, which will lead to significant increases in housing targets for the majority of London Green Belt local planning authorities.
Richard Knox Johnston, LGBC chairman and CPRE Kent vice president, said: “This year’s data shows we were correct last year in predicting that there would be a further large increase in threats to the London Metropolitan Green Belt.
“While Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG ) spokespeople referred to our Safe Under Us? report year as containing ‘speculative and misleading’ data, our research proves that, if anything, we under-reported the scale of Green Belt threats.”
Catherine Maguire, LGBC campaigner, added: “DCLG figures claim only a small loss to the Green Belt nationally from 2016-2017. This dramatically understates the problem as it only takes account of development that has already taken place, rather than the development that is planned which is shown in our research.
“In fact, the evidence suggests that the threat numbers will increase even more because many councils have not yet published their plans, for example in areas such as south-east Essex, Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks.
Mr Knox-Johnston concluded: “Unless the government takes urgent action, we estimate that threats will increase to over 600 sites by July 2018.
“Councils are being pressurised by government to set targets which are much higher than are ever likely to be needed.
“None of this will have any impact on the overall supply of housing because land supply has not been the problem. But it will mean that Green Belt will be built on in preference to brownfield land as it provides greater profit.
“So this is fundamentally undermining the purpose of the Green Belt – to promote much- needed regeneration in run-down areas and contain urban sprawl.
“Also this encroachment will not meet the urgent need for housing for young families and young people due to the premium that comes with Green Belt land.
“Action is needed more urgently than ever if we are to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of London’s Green Belt.
“Instead of proposing ill-thought-out methods for calculating targets which conflate housing need with market demand, the government should be encouraged to reduce the pressure on councils to build on Green Belt land by focusing on genuine housing need and restricting the ability of councils to de-designate Green Belt land.”
Monday, October 9