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MODERNISING GREEN BELTS - A SUMMARY

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Consultation of Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) membership has revealed overwhelming support amongst planning ...
Consultation of Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) membership has revealed overwhelming support amongst planning professionals for a review of green belt policy. Further impetus comes from December's Planning Green Paper.

The RTPI continues to support the purpose of green belts:

- To contain urban sprawl

- To encourage regeneration of urban land

- To protect the setting of historic towns

- Green belts, where needed, are the interface between town and country. They are an element of urban policy, and not created for countryside protection.

The RTPI's members identify a number of problems with the existing system:

1.Green belts effectively have lives of their own, divorced from all that happens around them.

2.There are tensions between government policies on the green belt (PPG 2) and policies designed to deliver sustainable development (eg PPG 3 and PPG 13) in the areas of:

- distribution and location of new housing

- the evolving shape of settlements

- reducing the need to travel and reducing car dependency

3.The urban fringe - where urban meets rural - is still a policy 'black hole', even after the Urban and Rural White Papers and the Planning Green Paper.

4.Restrictions on development in the Green Belt reduce available land and sterilise development values.

5.There is emerging flexibility to development in the countryside generally in the light of declining agricultural viability, and the opening up of rural activities there - which is not reflected in green belts.

6. The public has a negative and inaccurate perception of green belts, believing that:

- they are designed to preserve the countryside by enclosing the urban area - and consequently that,

- any green land on the urban fringe has been or should be designated as green belt

- that they are sacrosanct and inviolable.

7. There are widely differing views about what development is 'appropriate' in green belts, with, for instance, support for a new stadium voiced - while other small changes are denied.

The RTPI recommends that the following principles are applied to the formation of up-to-date policy guidance:

1.Once designated, green belts should not be regarded as sacrosanct or inviolable.

2.Each green belt should have the same life span as the overall strategy of which it forms a part.

3.Green belts should continue to be protected from inappropriate development, but only to the same extent as rural areas generally, where limited development is permitted.

4.The need for and extent of green belts should be controlled and reviewed at a regional level.

5.The boundaries of green belts should be settled within a local context, and based on clearly defined features, such as motorway and railway embankments, so that they make sense on the ground as well as on the map.

6.Green belt designations need to be combined with positive action for the environmental management of the included land, together with explicit strategies for farming and forestry. Green belts cannot maintain or sustain themselves.

7.There needs to be sufficient development value in green belts to fund environmental enhancements.

8.Green belt policy should adopt a lighter touch, allowing different approaches in different areas.

The green belt need not be a battlefield. A modernised policy would remove many of the current tensions, and bring a real enhancement to the quality and purpose of green belt land.

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