Jules Marley: Stop and think. We can still build homes without ruining our countryside

Green belt land matters to local communities and shiould be protected, says the CPRE.
Green belt land matters to local communities and shiould be protected, says the CPRE.
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FOR years, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has been calling for smart planning. This translates as ‘build in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons’. Or, more simply put, ‘stop and think’.

We need to ensure we have affordable homes, but before we plough up even more green fields or green belt, let’s use what we have right now wisely. After all, we’re encouraged to recycle everything from food to clothing to waste, so why don’t we recycle our brownfield sites with the same enthusiasm?

Some local councils place so much emphasis on this that they refuse to collect bins with the wrong kind of waste in them. We believe that wrong kind of development in the wrong place should be refused with the same commitment.

CPRE’s latest study shows that we could provide 1.1 million new homes over the next few years on suitable brownfield sites across England. Our research looked at 53 councils taking part in the Government’s pilot brownfield register scheme. We found that these councils recorded an 11 per cent increase in the number of homes that could be built on brownfield, compared to the last available data. Applying this increase to the rest of the country gives a new estimated capacity of 1.1 million homes.

We found that there is nearly enough brownfield land for the councils taking part in the scheme to meet their five-year housing targets without building on any countryside at all.

So, we’ve identified we have plenty of brownfield. Add to that the 575,000 approved planning permissions for houses not yet built and the land banked by developers – and factor in empty homes that should be used – and the picture changes dramatically.

Despite all this, it’s the old adage of ‘you can take a horse to water but you just can’t make it drink’. Without stronger policies from the Government, we can’t make developers build the houses they have permissions for, we can’t make developers use up brownfield land first, we can’t make them use the land they have banked. That’s why CPRE is calling for Government to make sure councils refuse planning permission for greenfield sites where these would compete with development of nearby brownfield land.

Communities matter. People matter. As a charity, we see too many people devastated because an inappropriate planning application will destroy their community, and too many people are unable to afford a home because the right houses aren’t being built in the right places. People who have worked long and hard to create a home in a place where people matter, where people care. Yet, our research shows that we have what we need, with a little joined-up thinking, we can ensure the much-needed homes are provided in this country.

It’s that joined-up thinking and common sense we need when looking at what to build, where and why. For example, why approve a new poultry farm in the York green belt? Surely the purpose of the green belt is more important than a brand new factory that processes over a quarter of a million chicken every eight weeks? Or the latest threat at Parlington in the Leeds green belt where 5,000 homes are suggested in the local plan? Or Hellifield, where over 250 acres of prime agricultural land is the target of a developer who wants to create park and ride, 300 lodge homes, a hotel and more with a controversial planning history spanning some 20 years? It really is about housekeeping. What have we got and how do we use it wisely?

The use of the word Nimby is an excuse to hide behind. CPRE members are not ‘not in my back yarders’. The back yards we campaign to protect are the countryside, our coastlines, our heritage, the towns, villages and yes, even the cities, and they belong to all of us.

This small island is a blend of modern and old architecture, built areas and open countryside. If, for example, we did not have the green belt surrounding London, it would, without planning constraints, stretch to Brighton right now.

Yorkshire is home to some of the most spectacular, outstanding countryside as shown by the world’s media during the Tour de France Grand Départ. That countryside benefits all, from visitors, to Yorkshire people from town and country.

With space for 1.1 million homes on brownfield land, it’s clear that the Government, local councils and developers have no excuse for ploughing up our natural spaces: we can build the houses we need without damaging England’s precious countryside.

Jules Marley is chair of the CPRE in North Yorkshire.