Why we need to avoid new developments on Surrey’s Green Belt

PUBLISHED: 12:14 10 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:14 10 January 2020

New home devlopers have been calling for the easing of green belt restrictions in Surrey

New home devlopers have been calling for the easing of green belt restrictions in Surrey

Alistair Forrester Shankie

There is no justification for building housing estates in our Green Belt, writes Andy Smith, Surrey branch director of CPRE, the countryside charity | Words: Andy Smith

The London Green Belt, which covers most of Surrey, is "the countryside next door" for millions of people in and around our capital city. Escaping from urban life into the tranquil countryside improves our health, boosts our mood, and gives us pause to reflect on the world around us.

Crucially, as we are now facing a climate and ecological emergency, the need to revitalise and protect our living green spaces has never been more important.

Our countryside plays a vital role in sequestering carbon and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, providing space to plant trees and hedgerows, reduce flooding and cool our towns.

Since its creation in the 1950s, our Green Belt has proved a great success by protecting Surrey's open spaces and reducing the damage of urban sprawl.

Unfortunately, however, it is now under huge pressure from development, with tens of thousands of new houses being earmarked for Green Belt land across Surrey.

Developers - aided by their political allies - make the bogus claim that loosening planning restrictions such as the Green Belt will enable us to build the homes we need.

They argue that if only we could build more houses in the Green Belt there would be no housing shortages. This argument is utter nonsense and bears no relation to reality whatsoever.

In fact, research shows that releasing Green Belt land for housing development does nothing to enable us to meet genuine local housing needs.

A new report for CPRE, Space to Breathe, A State of the Green Belt Report, reveals that of all the new homes built on Green Belt land over the past decade only 10 per cent were in the "affordable" category - and even this has been of little use in meeting housing needs as the Government's definition of "affordability" is 80 per cent of market value.

Here in Surrey most of these "affordable" houses are still out-of-reach for many families, especially the key workers that we so desperately need. So, "affordable" homes are, for most people, unaffordable.

By allowing harmful development in our Green Belt, on the false prospectus that it helps to solve the housing crisis, we are squandering a valuable asset at a time when it is needed for our own health and well-being, and to address the climate change crisis.

Instead, as the CPRE report makes clear, we need better solutions to fix the housing crisis, such as building on "brownfield" (previously developed) sites.

Research shows there is enough derelict brownfield land throughout England to build over a million new homes on these sites.

Rather than sacrificing countryside for development we need to look for ways to enhance the Green Belt so that it is valued as much by local authorities and developers as it is by local communities.

In the future it is pertinent to ask those soliciting your vote whether they and their party will pledge to defend the Green Belt if elected. The lesson is clear: Building houses in our Green Belt is not the answer to the housing crisis.

The Space to Breathe report can be downloaded at cpre.org.uk

@CPRESurrey

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