Green Belt: the countryside next door to 30 million people needs investment to level up access to nature, says CPRE

The Green Belt is a treasured asset for millions (pic Alex Hills)

The Green Belt is missing out on government funding for the restoration of nature and cultural heritage despite it being the countryside next door to 30 million people – or more than half of England’s population.

Valued spaces such as the parkland setting of Bentley Priory – the headquarters of the RAF during the Battle of Britain – are at risk of neglect or loss. The government is being urged to meet its commitments to both protect and enhance Green Belt land or risk losing it to development forever.

So called ‘agri-environment’ schemes to plant trees, improve soil health, boost biodiversity and restore historic parks and buildings are not sufficiently benefiting the countryside that is most accessible to the general public. The findings come as repeated studies show the countryside around our most populous towns and cities is increasingly valued by the public.

Analysis by CPRE, the countryside charity, of a recent government study shows that four out of the 10 most valued parks in England are on Green Belt land. Land managers interviewed by CPRE confirmed the surge in the number of people visiting historic sites and beauty spots first reported during lockdown has continued to remain strong, with the Green Belt increasingly being used for walking and recreation.

Just over a quarter (28 per cent) of Green Belt agricultural land is covered by agri-environment schemes, compared with 42 per cent nationwide. Only 7 per cent of all national spending is on Green Belt land, even though Green Belts contain 11 per cent of all England’s farmland.

A new report by CPRE recommends boosting funding for the countryside next door to our towns and cities. In addition to improving access to nature, the schemes should aim for broader public benefits such as strategically planting trees and hedgerows to prevent urban flooding.

The countryside next door: why we need to invest in greener, healthier Green Belts is the first research to analyse the geographical spread of where agri-environment funding has been spent. The government is initiating a new regime of Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes to replace previous agricultural and land management subsidies. The report demonstrates that the new schemes are the most important means by which the government’s own pledge to safeguard and improve the Green Belt can be met.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The government needs to invest in the Green Belt on a major scale if ministers are to meet their political commitments to protecting and enhancing the countryside next door for 30 million people.

“The alternative to funding the Green Belt increases the risk of it being built on it instead. History repeatedly shows that when protected countryside is under-appreciated it’s at risk of being lost forever to development. 

“People deserve countryside on their doorstep where agriculture is less intensive, where there is space for nature that everyone can explore and enjoy and which is accessible to all. Green Belts have a crucial role in enhancing the sustainability of our cities. Green Belt land can provide essential ecological functions and recreational benefits that are fundamental to health and well-being. And this can go hand in hand with sustainable agricultural production and climate-change mitigation.”

The Green Belt includes more than 6,000 miles of public rights of way, 34 per cent of all England’s nature reserves and 22 per cent of its historic parks and gardens. The report shows that many social groups face particular challenges accessing these places, such as crossing busy roads, stiles and a lack of reliable public transport.

Against a background of cuts to local government budgets for supporting parks and green spaces, funding from existing agri-environment schemes has played an essential role in maintaining historic parks around our towns and cities and making them more accessible.

That’s why CPRE is calling for a significant increase in investment in the Green Belt through ELMs, to improve the countryside environment closest to where the majority of people live. The government committed in the Levelling Up Bill to “improved Green Belts around towns and cities” and to “develop plans for further greening of the Green Belt in England”.

To address deprivation and ensure as many people as possible benefit, there should also be new investment to improve the countryside around large cities that don’t have a protected Green Belt, such as Leicester, Norwich, south Hampshire and Teesside.

Ben Goldsmith, vice-chair of London Rewilding and a Defra board member, said: “Few people grasp the degree to which the natural fabric of Britain has become depleted. Sights, sounds and smells that were common to previous generations are unknown to much of ours.

“A lack of access to green spaces exacerbates the disconnect from nature now experienced by great swathes of our society. Britain’s Green Belt areas offer a tremendously exciting opportunity to reinvigorate nature right on the doorstep of tens of millions of people, reconnecting rural and urban nature and bringing wildlife into our most densely populated centres. This report from CPRE, which articulates how we might go about rewilding our green belts, is spot on and hugely exciting.”

Monday, May 30, 2022

Our open letter to government: heroic hedgerows and climate change

Hedgerows: the unsung heroes of our countryside (pic Julie Davies)

CPRE, the countryside charity, has joined with other major charities to call for urgent action to extend the country’s hedgerows by 40% by 2050 to protect nature and help tackle the climate crisis.
Our humble hedgerows are the unsung heroes of the countryside. They have been adding beauty and character to our landscapes for centuries while providing the food and shelter that sustains our wildlife. They protect the soil, clean the air and absorb carbon emissions.
But we have lost about half since 1945. Now, as we face up to the climate emergency, we urgently need to start reversing that decline – and allow our hedgerows to play their most important role yet.
That is why we have launched our #40by50 campaign, calling on ministers to commit to extending the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050, as recommended by the independent Climate Change Committee, and have written to the government to this effect, as published in The Times last month.
Our open letter calling on the government to do more to extend hedgerows reads as follows:

Hedgerows: the climate and nature heroes

Tree planting and peatland restoration are important parts of the government’s plan to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. Yet there is still one powerful solution missing from its strategy: the humble hedgerow.
Hedgerows are the unsung heroes of our countryside. They are icons of our landscape, steeped in history, providing a haven for wildlife while absorbing carbon emissions. The hedgerow network, in its expanse, is our largest ‘nature reserve’. Shockingly, it is estimated that more than half our hedgerows have been lost since WW2, and many existing hedgerows are in a poor, degraded state.
The Climate Change Committee recommends extending the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050 to help achieve net-zero. Ahead of COP26, now is the time for Ministers to show real leadership by committing to this target, while restoring our existing hedgerow network, to deliver a more resilient, beautiful and biodiverse countryside.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity
Dawn Varley, chief executive, Badger Trust
Kit Stoner, chief executive, Bat Conservation Trust
Anita Konrad, chief executive, Campaign for National Parks
Mark Bridgeman, president, Country Land and Business Association
Lizzie Glithero-West, chief executive, Heritage Alliance
John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace
Shaun Spiers, executive director, Green Alliance
Hilary McGrady, director-general, National Trust
Jill Nelson, chief executive, People’s Trust for Endangered Species
Emma Marsh, director, RSPB England
Sara Lom, chief executive, The Tree Council
Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts
Richard Benwell, chief executive, Wildlife & Countryside Link
Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive, Woodland Trust

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Pressure on the Green Belt has quadrupled since 2013

Our countryside has arguably never been more valued… by some!

Despite a surge in demand for time in green space, the Green Belt – the countryside next door for 30 million people – is facing extreme and sustained pressure, according to new research from CPRE, the countryside charity.
The State of Greenbelt 2021 report reveals there are 0.25 million (257,944) homes proposed to be built on land removed from the Green Belt – more than four times as many (475 per cent increase) as in 2013. With only one in 10 considered affordable, these new homes will do little to tackle the affordable housing crisis.
This pressure is only set to increase under damaging changes to the planning system being considered by the government – the analysis reveals the new formula to determine housing supply proposed by the government could lead to at least a 35 per cent increase in housing on the Green Belt.
The report highlights a number of local case studies where increased pressure on Green Belts is leading to the loss of valuable open land for local communities.
This huge loss of countryside near where people live is in direct contradiction to overwhelming demand for access to quality time in green space and nature. A new poll, conducted by Opinium on behalf of CPRE, shows a surge in appreciation since the first lockdown for local green spaces, many of which are in our Green Belts, and found that:
•          More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of adults think protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority after lockdown
•          Almost half (46 per cent) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown – a dramatic 11 percentage point increase since April 2020
•          A total of 59 per cent reported they are more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and well-being since lockdown
Commenting on the findings, Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, said: “Local countryside and green spaces have been a lifeline through lockdown. Our poll shows massive public support for protecting these places – their importance for our mental health and well-being is undeniable.
“So, to see the growing level of threat faced by the Green Belt, the countryside next door for millions of people living in our towns and cities, is extremely worrying.
“The government can and must act to stop the loss of Green Belt and ensure greater access to nature and green space is at the heart of our planning system.
“This can be done by making best use of land that’s been built on previously before even considering development on the Green Belt. The public is crying out for more access to nature, green space and countryside – it’s time ministers realised this and put people and nature at the heart of their changes to the planning system.”
Despite evidence that there is already enough space on previously-used land (known as brownfield) and other land already granted planning permission for the government to reach its housing targets for the duration of this parliament, the upcoming changes to planning look set to further increase pressure on the Green Belt.
The report lays out the consequences of this approach as only 10 per cent of the developments planned for Green Belt land between 2015 and 2020 are considered to be affordable. On this trajectory, we risk losing ever more Green Belt while having no impact on the housing crisis and providing homes local communities are able to afford.
To make sure we protect and enhance the Green Belt while allowing for the genuinely affordable new homes that are sorely needed, CPRE is urging the government to put people and nature at the heart of the forthcoming Planning Bill.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Enough brownfield land for 1.3 million new homes, CPRE report reveals

Better use of brownfield can save our green spaces

There is enough brownfield land for 1.3 million new homes, while more than half a million already have planning permission, a report from CPRE, the countryside charity, reveals.
The figures demonstrate that there is already enough available and suitable land in the planning system to meet the government’s ambition to build 300,000 homes per year for the next five years (this Parliament), calling into question the hugely controversial plans to deregulate the planning system that has been proposed by ministers.
Brownfield land – land that has previously been built on and now sits derelict or vacant – provides a valuable resource in the protection of greenfield land from development. The State of Brownfield report 2020 is the latest in a series of CPRE reports on the brownfield register, which catalogues the number of brownfield sites available for development.
The analysis clearly shows that the planning system is not slowing building rates. There is currently planning permission for more than half a million (565,564) units on brownfield land.
In February 2020, the Local Government Association found that more than one million homes in total had been granted planning permission but not yet built. This means that brownfield sites and other unbuilt sites with planning permission could provide more than 1.5 million new homes – in short, we need not suffer the staggering loss of countryside that recent government proposals could bring about.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “These figures clearly show that the planning system is not what is ailing our housing market.
“If there is enough land in the planning system to meet the government’s own housing targets, what will an overhaul of the planning system, with rushed and untested changes, really achieve? It’s clear the government has gravely misdiagnosed the problem – slow build-out rates and market-led housing are blocking the quality affordable housing that rural communities are crying out for.
“But there is a real prize in brownfield – what says ‘build back better’ more than adopting a truly ‘brownfield first’ approach that will breathe new life into the long-forgotten and derelict areas in our towns, cities and villages? This approach will deliver huge benefits, building the affordable homes in areas where communities want to live, providing access to better transport links and amenities and services they need.
“As things stand, the government’s proposed changes will result in a free-for-all, allowing big housebuilders to build what they like, where they like and when they like. Now more than ever is it vital that the government listens to local communities, promotes a genuinely ‘brownfield first’ policy and brings forward more brownfield sites for development so we can build more affordable, well-designed homes.”
Many areas across England with high housing need also have a large amount of brownfield land ready for redevelopment. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have identified land available for regeneration that would provide almost half a million homes (458,587).
To make best use of suitable brownfield land, CPRE is urging the government to introduce a genuine ‘brownfield first’ policy that ensures suitable previously developed or under-used land is prioritised for redevelopment over green spaces and countryside.
Clearer definitions and guidelines must be given so that the registers act as a true pipeline, identifying all possible brownfield sites and recording their suitability for uses other than housing, including uses that protect the biodiversity or heritage value of sites where applicable.

  • To read Recycling Our Land: The State of Brownfield 2020, click here

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Nothing quite like it… the CPRE Kent AGM

Always a highlight for members across the county: the AGM
Chairman John Wotton is invariably an engaging speaker
Chief executive Crispin Truman gave the talk CPRE and the Future for our Countryside

Almost 70 members and supporters gathered at Lenham Community Centre on Friday (November 22) for CPRE Kent’s AGM.
Sadly, our president Graham Clarke couldn’t make the event and delight us with his wonderful poems and anecdotes, but we were more than compensated for with a richly varied and engaging series of presentations.
County director Hilary Newport delivered her annual report, chairman John Wotton gave a thought-provoking talk and vice-president Richard Knox-Johnston presented The Climate Change Challenge… but not before guest speaker Crispin Truman, CPRE chief executive, had updated us on progress made by the national organisation.
Such events wouldn’t be the treasure they are without fine food and drink, of course, and most indulged in a splendid lunch and no small amount of conversation to round off a thoroughly satisfactory event.
Minutes of the meeting will appear on this website soon, but in the meantime you can enjoy the presentations here:
Director’s Report
Chairman’s Talk  
Chief Executive’s Speech
The Climate Change Challenge

Monday, November 25, 2019