ALL over Yorkshire, valuable countryside – much of it designated as Green Belt – is unnecessarily under threat from housebuilding.
In the rush to provide more housing, which is vitally needed, a core function of the planning system has been lost – the ability to provide the right homes in the right places for the people who need them.
The overwhelming need is for affordable, low-carbon homes in sustainable locations, and suited to our ageing population. The volume housebuilders, with few exceptions, focus on lower density, car-dependent developments, with lacklustre environmental performance. Unimaginative design also contributes to community opposition to schemes that don’t make for distinctive places.
Recently CPRE published its annual national update of the potential for brownfield land to provide housing. We found that more than a million homes could be provided, two thirds of which could be developed immediately to meet housing need. This would help transform run-down areas of our cities and towns and prevent the unnecessary loss of precious countryside and green spaces.
Last September, CPRE South Yorkshire warned that taking land from Sheffield’s Green Belt to build new homes could be counter-productive. We are still clear that it would not meet people’s real housing needs in Sheffield, and it could deepen social inequalities.
Sheffield has a great record of building on brownfield land and we are anticipating that the next Local Plan will, in theory, put brownfield first. But we want the Council to go further and only release greenfield land once maximum use has been made of urban sites.
It is disappointing that, six months on, Sheffield Council has still not issued their draft Local Plan for public consultation. Rumours are rife that the document is being held back because of its political sensitivity. This can only mean one thing: local politicians are very nervous about how much development is being proposed, and where.
CPRE has been at the forefront of shaping and defending Sheffield’s countryside since the 1930s. Without our work, Sheffield would have sprawled many more miles along its river valleys and out into precious countryside. It would also have been a less attractive and less healthy city, because the Green Belt has brought the countryside into town and created what is now rightfully branded as the ‘‘Outdoor City’.
After years of waiting, when local communities do eventually get to see the draft Local Plan, they will have only six weeks to comment on it. This hardly seems fair, especially given the delays to date. We need a much more engaged conversation, starting now.
We have recognised all along that some changes to the Green Belt will be necessary. Our concern is to make sure those changes are for the better. If land is removed from the Green Belt and made available for housing, we want to know three things. Will it result in the right types of homes being built in the right places, which the people who need them can afford? Will it help the re-use of the acres of derelict and under-used land in the city? And will it enhance the connection between Sheffield residents and the countryside they hold dear?
What we really need to see is a map to get a clear picture of what is at stake. To fill the current vacuum of information, CPRE has now produced its own threat assessment. The map shows our best estimate of where land in the countryside around Sheffield is likely to be under threat from new housing.
We expect some of this land to be proposed by the City Council in its draft Local Plan. Much more of it is at risk from landowners pushing for extra land to be allocated.
Given this, the CPRE will be running its own public consultation event at Sheffield station tomorrow, and on Saturday, where anyone can drop by and tell us what it is that they value about their bit of the city’s open spaces. They will be able to see CPRE’s map of Green Belt threats. They may think some of that land should be built on, because many people do need homes.
CPRE will also be writing to all the local election candidates asking them to recognise that tackling Sheffield’s startling social inequalities must be at the heart of the Local Plan that councillors vote for, and that protecting the countryside people hold dear is just as important to that aim as new buildings and infrastructure.
When we finally see Sheffield’s draft Local Plan, our consultation means we’ll be able to comment on it with a real understanding of what people care about. And CPRE’s campaign message for all of Yorkshire is clear: we can meet people’s needs both for housing and for green, open space and without losing precious countryside.
Andrew Wood is a consultant planning officer for the CPRE campaign group.