It is vital we protect green belts for future generations

Helen Marshall, the director of Campaign to Protect Rural England Oxfordshire, is worried about over development of the green belt in the county.Picture: Antony Moore

Helen Marshall, the director of Campaign to Protect Rural England Oxfordshire, is worried about over development of the green belt in the county.Picture: Antony Moore Buy this photo

First published in News

Last week, figures were published suggesting that Oxfordshire needs to build a staggering 100,000 houses by 2031, an increase of nearly 40 per cent in under 20 years. For Oxford, the proposed increase is 28,000 houses – the size of Didcot. This equates to roughly a 50 per cent rise in Oxford’s permanent population.

These numbers are not based on what we can sensibly accommodate without irreparably damaging our landscape or overwhelming our infrastructure and local communities. Instead they are based on ambitious plans for economic growth that have never been subject to public consultation; an unrealistic notion about how many houses developers will build in the current climate and some strange figures for population growth in Oxford city, that appear to take into account a substantial rise in student numbers even though their needs are accommodated outside of normal housing figures.

The plans would be unlikely to solve the problem of affordable housing but would certainly lead to a poorer environment for everyone.

Nonetheless, Oxford city has been quick to once again push forward its long-held ambition for expansion into the green belt.

Their plans would see development all the way to Kidlington and Begbroke, plus south of Grenoble Road all the way to the Baldons and possibly beyond.

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Yet a rather surprising knight on a white charger may be riding to our rescue. Nick Boles, the planning minister who has ploughed furrows through many of the planning rules which protected the countryside, said something extraordinary last week.

In an address to Parliament he confirmed that green belts must be protected, and that building on them was not an acceptable way of satisfying housing needs. Specifically, that “unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development”.

He also clarified that the “duty to co-operate” which was placed on councils in the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework did not mean that one council had to accept another’s demands, but only to consider them.

At a stroke he has undermined the whole strategy of Bob Price, the expansionist leader of Oxford City Council, which seeks to compel the surrounding authorities to let the city grow out over the surrounding green belt.

Why is the minister right to save the green belt from the city council and why is Bob Price wrong to wish to concrete it over?

It is the green belts that have preserved the character of our island, and particularly its crowded South East corner.

Green belts were created specifically to prevent the urban sprawl and ribbon development that has so damaged the environment elsewhere. The significant word was not “green”, although they tended to be mainly countryside, but “belt”.

The essence is its permanence. You cannot contain urban sprawl if you keep loosening the belt every time Oxford feels like sprawling.

What’s more, an immovable green belt is of immense benefit to Oxford and Oxfordshire even though Mr Price chooses to ignore it.

In protecting the surrounding countryside and villages it gives city dwellers easy access to the countryside. It protects surrounding towns like Abingdon being swallowed up into a Greater Oxford and it provides the environment which attracts the high end entrepreneurs we need to the county.

The medieval centre of Oxford itself is incapable of satisfactorily supporting a larger city and the tourist income which is so important relies on the city’s setting which the green belt protects.

It protects Oxford from its own city council. That alone is enough to make it essential to preserve it, as the planning minister says we must.

Of course the houses we really need have to be built, even the incredibly large numbers now suggested, if they can be justified. But we are a long way from seeing the evidence for this and they won’t be built at the expense of the green belt, as “urban extensions” of Oxford, as the city council seeks to do.

Comments (14)

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7:41pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Patrick, Devon says...

Yes, the "green belt" is a bit of a misnomer, but I would say its the "belt" not the "green". Oxford' setting, which complements the architectural heritage, is the green wedges - the flood plain river valleys. Tourists tend not to worry about Kidlington or Cowley, unless they are staying there and have to face a slow bus or a traffic jam to get into the city centre.

The fact that Oxford is the "least affordable city in Brttain" should make CPRE realise that this problem cannot be addressed without substantial new housing within easy distance of the centre.

Cities on the continent with architectural heritage and tourism have been allowed to expand without detriment to the environment. Look at Brugge for example. Oxford's economy is not based on tourism, although it makes a valuable contribution. It needs to allow modern hi tech industries to expand and develop - for the sake of the national economy.. The tourists and visitors will then come in greater numbers.
Yes, the "green belt" is a bit of a misnomer, but I would say its the "belt" not the "green". Oxford' setting, which complements the architectural heritage, is the green wedges - the flood plain river valleys. Tourists tend not to worry about Kidlington or Cowley, unless they are staying there and have to face a slow bus or a traffic jam to get into the city centre. The fact that Oxford is the "least affordable city in Brttain" should make CPRE realise that this problem cannot be addressed without substantial new housing within easy distance of the centre. Cities on the continent with architectural heritage and tourism have been allowed to expand without detriment to the environment. Look at Brugge for example. Oxford's economy is not based on tourism, although it makes a valuable contribution. It needs to allow modern hi tech industries to expand and develop - for the sake of the national economy.. The tourists and visitors will then come in greater numbers. Patrick, Devon
  • Score: 20

7:48pm Thu 13 Mar 14

The Foxy Lady says...

Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown?
Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown? The Foxy Lady
  • Score: -19

8:10pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

The Foxy Lady wrote:
Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown?
It's 100,000 homes for *Oxfordshire* - not all in Oxford.

One way to solve the ever increasing population issue in Oxford would be to legislate to stop employers from recruiting someone to work in the city unless they could evidence they could afford to live here and be capable of reaching their place of work by sustainable means...

(Don't forget the delightful woman who always reminds me of "Tulip Tattsyrup" is a Director not a volunteer and is paid by the CPRE to get her picture and quotes in the paper.)
[quote][p][bold]The Foxy Lady[/bold] wrote: Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown?[/p][/quote]It's 100,000 homes for *Oxfordshire* - not all in Oxford. One way to solve the ever increasing population issue in Oxford would be to legislate to stop employers from recruiting someone to work in the city unless they could evidence they could afford to live here and be capable of reaching their place of work by sustainable means... (Don't forget the delightful woman who always reminds me of "Tulip Tattsyrup" is a Director not a volunteer and is paid by the CPRE to get her picture and quotes in the paper.) Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 1

8:44pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Andy of jericho says...

Patrick, Devon wrote:
Yes, the "green belt" is a bit of a misnomer, but I would say its the "belt" not the "green". Oxford' setting, which complements the architectural heritage, is the green wedges - the flood plain river valleys. Tourists tend not to worry about Kidlington or Cowley, unless they are staying there and have to face a slow bus or a traffic jam to get into the city centre.

The fact that Oxford is the "least affordable city in Brttain" should make CPRE realise that this problem cannot be addressed without substantial new housing within easy distance of the centre.

Cities on the continent with architectural heritage and tourism have been allowed to expand without detriment to the environment. Look at Brugge for example. Oxford's economy is not based on tourism, although it makes a valuable contribution. It needs to allow modern hi tech industries to expand and develop - for the sake of the national economy.. The tourists and visitors will then come in greater numbers.
Totally disagree. Proposal for 100000 more homes would destroy what is special about the county and the city. At this rate the county would be entirely built over early in the next century, We all agree that Oxford cannot grow for ever, that is mathematically impossible. So it is question of when we think growth must stop, not if.

It is NOT necessary that industry must grow in Oxford 'for the sake of the national economy' - what on earth does that mean. What is necessary is that the overheating of the SE should stop. Too much development is killing communities in the SE, too little development is killing communities in the North and West. Sane answer is to rebalance

If we did not concrete over the countryside to allow more industry, Oxford would not crash into utter poverty, we would have all the economic acticivity we already have.

Oxfords infrastructure is collapsing NOW never mind with a 40% increase in housing. Traffic jams for an increasing proportion of the day, nowhere to park and because of that retail in the centre is suffering

Unthinking growth will destroy us, as cancerous growth destroys the body, Say STOP
[quote][p][bold]Patrick, Devon[/bold] wrote: Yes, the "green belt" is a bit of a misnomer, but I would say its the "belt" not the "green". Oxford' setting, which complements the architectural heritage, is the green wedges - the flood plain river valleys. Tourists tend not to worry about Kidlington or Cowley, unless they are staying there and have to face a slow bus or a traffic jam to get into the city centre. The fact that Oxford is the "least affordable city in Brttain" should make CPRE realise that this problem cannot be addressed without substantial new housing within easy distance of the centre. Cities on the continent with architectural heritage and tourism have been allowed to expand without detriment to the environment. Look at Brugge for example. Oxford's economy is not based on tourism, although it makes a valuable contribution. It needs to allow modern hi tech industries to expand and develop - for the sake of the national economy.. The tourists and visitors will then come in greater numbers.[/p][/quote]Totally disagree. Proposal for 100000 more homes would destroy what is special about the county and the city. At this rate the county would be entirely built over early in the next century, We all agree that Oxford cannot grow for ever, that is mathematically impossible. So it is question of when we think growth must stop, not if. It is NOT necessary that industry must grow in Oxford 'for the sake of the national economy' - what on earth does that mean. What is necessary is that the overheating of the SE should stop. Too much development is killing communities in the SE, too little development is killing communities in the North and West. Sane answer is to rebalance If we did not concrete over the countryside to allow more industry, Oxford would not crash into utter poverty, we would have all the economic acticivity we already have. Oxfords infrastructure is collapsing NOW never mind with a 40% increase in housing. Traffic jams for an increasing proportion of the day, nowhere to park and because of that retail in the centre is suffering Unthinking growth will destroy us, as cancerous growth destroys the body, Say STOP Andy of jericho
  • Score: -20

9:19pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Oflife says...

1. Spot on.
2. The Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 (that I entered) is this year focused on the Garden City concept, that may well help solve the issue of housing.
3. For evidence of how even a minor badly conceived construction effort can ruin an otherwise lovely area, consider those buildings recently built next to Port Meadow. The outcry was justified.

Why live if there is no where lovely to visit?
1. Spot on. 2. The Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 (that I entered) is this year focused on the Garden City concept, that may well help solve the issue of housing. 3. For evidence of how even a minor badly conceived construction effort can ruin an otherwise lovely area, consider those buildings recently built next to Port Meadow. The outcry was justified. Why live if there is no where lovely to visit? Oflife
  • Score: -7

9:29pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Sandy Wimpole-Smythe says...

Amazing how those screaming about the 'green belt' are never the ones desperate for a home, on the verge of homelessness or even homeless. Try putting yourself in their position and see how much a tree or a patch of grass means to you then. Nobody is asking to take all of your precious 'green belt' just a small amount to house those who need housing.
Amazing how those screaming about the 'green belt' are never the ones desperate for a home, on the verge of homelessness or even homeless. Try putting yourself in their position and see how much a tree or a patch of grass means to you then. Nobody is asking to take all of your precious 'green belt' just a small amount to house those who need housing. Sandy Wimpole-Smythe
  • Score: 28

9:56pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Andrew:Oxford says...

Oflife wrote:
1. Spot on.
2. The Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 (that I entered) is this year focused on the Garden City concept, that may well help solve the issue of housing.
3. For evidence of how even a minor badly conceived construction effort can ruin an otherwise lovely area, consider those buildings recently built next to Port Meadow. The outcry was justified.

Why live if there is no where lovely to visit?
There is a lovely view of Port Meadow from the new apartments that were built on a degraded city centre brownfield site.

Where are you planning on building your "Garden City"?
[quote][p][bold]Oflife[/bold] wrote: 1. Spot on. 2. The Wolfson Economics Prize 2014 (that I entered) is this year focused on the Garden City concept, that may well help solve the issue of housing. 3. For evidence of how even a minor badly conceived construction effort can ruin an otherwise lovely area, consider those buildings recently built next to Port Meadow. The outcry was justified. Why live if there is no where lovely to visit?[/p][/quote]There is a lovely view of Port Meadow from the new apartments that were built on a degraded city centre brownfield site. Where are you planning on building your "Garden City"? Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 2

11:05pm Thu 13 Mar 14

Patrick, Devon says...

The Foxy Lady wrote:
Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown?
So am I Oxford born and bred, but cannot afford to live there. My part of Devon (the north) has the lowest wages in England, few job opportunities, terrible roads, little public transport, a totally inept Council and an economy far too reliant on traditional tourism. We also have 100s of giant wind turbines btw, along with 1000s of hideous agricultural buildings.

We also have 1000s of new homes planned, but there are no jobs. I know people who commute part time to London, Oxford and Sussex.

The high tech industrues wont come here because we dont have the skills or the infrastructure. Labour intensive industries wont either, because its too remote from markets. We dont even have a decent football team!

The biggest threat to your lungs in Oxford is the internal combustion engine. Sort that, as they are doing in other parts of the world, with modern transport systems, and you would barely notice a population increase, other than the better facilities and job opportunities that would accompany it.
[quote][p][bold]The Foxy Lady[/bold] wrote: Patrick from DEVON. Nice beaches. Nice countyside. I am from OXFORD BORN AND BRED. We are already polluted. We need our gree lungs. We cannot expand forever. How about 100, , 000 homes in your ttown?[/p][/quote]So am I Oxford born and bred, but cannot afford to live there. My part of Devon (the north) has the lowest wages in England, few job opportunities, terrible roads, little public transport, a totally inept Council and an economy far too reliant on traditional tourism. We also have 100s of giant wind turbines btw, along with 1000s of hideous agricultural buildings. We also have 1000s of new homes planned, but there are no jobs. I know people who commute part time to London, Oxford and Sussex. The high tech industrues wont come here because we dont have the skills or the infrastructure. Labour intensive industries wont either, because its too remote from markets. We dont even have a decent football team! The biggest threat to your lungs in Oxford is the internal combustion engine. Sort that, as they are doing in other parts of the world, with modern transport systems, and you would barely notice a population increase, other than the better facilities and job opportunities that would accompany it. Patrick, Devon
  • Score: 8

7:44am Fri 14 Mar 14

Zico63 says...

Nick Boles is duplicitous. His new guidance DOES NOT protect greenbelt in the Local Plan process. Councils must still meet need. He will reap a whirlwind when people wise up that he has simply avoided protecting greenbelt while still requiring Councils to meet need, left greenbelt review necessary to meet that need, squarely in their lap. Cowardice!!
Nick Boles is duplicitous. His new guidance DOES NOT protect greenbelt in the Local Plan process. Councils must still meet need. He will reap a whirlwind when people wise up that he has simply avoided protecting greenbelt while still requiring Councils to meet need, left greenbelt review necessary to meet that need, squarely in their lap. Cowardice!! Zico63
  • Score: -3

11:42am Fri 14 Mar 14

mytaxes says...

Greyhound Stadium

City council leader Bob Price said: “Having had the focus on it that we have had for the planning application, it has been evident that the stadium has a very important heritage and conservation aspect to it.

“Having realised that, we thought we should use what powers we have to protect it. This will be another clear obstruction to it being a housing development.”

Mr. Price wants to build on the green belt and yet he wants to obstruct much needed housing elsewhere.
Greyhound Stadium City council leader Bob Price said: “Having had the focus on it that we have had for the planning application, it has been evident that the stadium has a very important heritage and conservation aspect to it. “Having realised that, we thought we should use what powers we have to protect it. This will be another clear obstruction to it being a housing development.” Mr. Price wants to build on the green belt and yet he wants to obstruct much needed housing elsewhere. mytaxes
  • Score: 0

12:59pm Fri 14 Mar 14

Bicester retired says...

Green belts are enjoyed by relatively few people and for not much time a year while our current and future generations suffer immensely from lack of affordable housing. A compromise must be made to balance the benefits of green belts and the urgent need for additional housing. We are not going to destroy all green belts and sacrificing a small percentage for housing should not have significant effect on the quality of life currently enjoyed by most people.
Green belts are enjoyed by relatively few people and for not much time a year while our current and future generations suffer immensely from lack of affordable housing. A compromise must be made to balance the benefits of green belts and the urgent need for additional housing. We are not going to destroy all green belts and sacrificing a small percentage for housing should not have significant effect on the quality of life currently enjoyed by most people. Bicester retired
  • Score: 12

2:03pm Fri 14 Mar 14

robin89898989 says...

If the nimbys want to protect the green belt, they should fork out the money to buy up the land and then this debate would be about land ownership, rather than protecting a privileged minority's quality of life at the cost of the many young, poor renters who are currently being exploited in this country.

Twice as much land is reserved for the use of golf courses in this country than for accommodation. The greenbelt argument to protect these green belts should, if it were a genuine green argument, be addressing golf courses as a priority rather than housing. The fact that they don't is evidence as to their true intentions. They want to restrict supply to keep their housing assets up and to preserve their own quality of life/privilege.
If the nimbys want to protect the green belt, they should fork out the money to buy up the land and then this debate would be about land ownership, rather than protecting a privileged minority's quality of life at the cost of the many young, poor renters who are currently being exploited in this country. Twice as much land is reserved for the use of golf courses in this country than for accommodation. The greenbelt argument to protect these green belts should, if it were a genuine green argument, be addressing golf courses as a priority rather than housing. The fact that they don't is evidence as to their true intentions. They want to restrict supply to keep their housing assets up and to preserve their own quality of life/privilege. robin89898989
  • Score: 18

8:49am Sat 15 Mar 14

Danny A says...

Protect the green belt for future generations?
Future generations won't be able to afford to live anywhere near it.
Protect the green belt for future generations? Future generations won't be able to afford to live anywhere near it. Danny A
  • Score: 2

10:07pm Sun 16 Mar 14

Aslan4 says...

The National Trust has warned that around half of English councils with greenbelt land are expected to have to accept building on protected countryside & it is worth reflecting on some of the reasons for that.

It is about one year since the new NPPF (National Planning Framework) was implemented, requiring Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to plan 20 year housing targets, based on ONS population growth projections, when “Localism” was supposed to put LPAs in control.

So, why did the Government then appoint so many new Planning Inspectors (PI)? Was it because they knew that LPAs would be unable to force developers to build according to ONS population growth, thereby leaving the PI with an excuse to permit speculative development, which itself would demand more PI capacity? Surely not!

Of course, developers thought that Christmas had come early, allowing them to put in planning applications on sites that suited them.

LPAs on the other hand, sought to produce housing targets based on ONS population projections (whether attainable or not) to be confident of Plan adoption & the rate of Local Plans published & submitted, seems to have risen noticeably.

This time last year, around 44% of English local planning authorities had plans that were published, submitted for examination & found sound or adopted. Whilst that figure seems to have risen to over 70%, only 7% of plans seem to have been approved since the NPPF.

HDC is similarly keen to have its Plan adopted & is proposing a 20 year target of 650 dwellings pa, as in the old SE Plan, notwithstanding that a Plan with unattainable targets is unlikely to give much protection against speculative development.

Indeed, since the average 8 year pre-recession building rate in HD was less than 500 pa, whilst GDP growth averaged 3% pa, HDC clearly has little hope of meeting that 20 year target (unless GDP is sustained well above 3%) & of mopping up the 5 year District backlog of around 2,000 dwellings, leaving the PI with an excuse to permit speculative applications.

In such circumstances, one might ask, is there any point in an LPA refusing any speculative planning applications? Fortunately we have seen a number of precedents in which factors other than the 5 year land supply criterion, have swung the balance in favour of refusal. That should counter any temptation to capitulate automatically, in the face of speculative applications.

In the light of those precedents, we should continue to apply sensible judgement of Planning Applications & to confront the inequitable system that seeks to hold us hostage to unattainable targets. If the Government has reneged on its promise of Localism, that is no reason for councillors to be intimidated into aiding and abetting them.
The National Trust has warned that around half of English councils with greenbelt land are expected to have to accept building on protected countryside & it is worth reflecting on some of the reasons for that. It is about one year since the new NPPF (National Planning Framework) was implemented, requiring Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to plan 20 year housing targets, based on ONS population growth projections, when “Localism” was supposed to put LPAs in control. So, why did the Government then appoint so many new Planning Inspectors (PI)? Was it because they knew that LPAs would be unable to force developers to build according to ONS population growth, thereby leaving the PI with an excuse to permit speculative development, which itself would demand more PI capacity? Surely not! Of course, developers thought that Christmas had come early, allowing them to put in planning applications on sites that suited them. LPAs on the other hand, sought to produce housing targets based on ONS population projections (whether attainable or not) to be confident of Plan adoption & the rate of Local Plans published & submitted, seems to have risen noticeably. This time last year, around 44% of English local planning authorities had plans that were published, submitted for examination & found sound or adopted. Whilst that figure seems to have risen to over 70%, only 7% of plans seem to have been approved since the NPPF. HDC is similarly keen to have its Plan adopted & is proposing a 20 year target of 650 dwellings pa, as in the old SE Plan, notwithstanding that a Plan with unattainable targets is unlikely to give much protection against speculative development. Indeed, since the average 8 year pre-recession building rate in HD was less than 500 pa, whilst GDP growth averaged 3% pa, HDC clearly has little hope of meeting that 20 year target (unless GDP is sustained well above 3%) & of mopping up the 5 year District backlog of around 2,000 dwellings, leaving the PI with an excuse to permit speculative applications. In such circumstances, one might ask, is there any point in an LPA refusing any speculative planning applications? Fortunately we have seen a number of precedents in which factors other than the 5 year land supply criterion, have swung the balance in favour of refusal. That should counter any temptation to capitulate automatically, in the face of speculative applications. In the light of those precedents, we should continue to apply sensible judgement of Planning Applications & to confront the inequitable system that seeks to hold us hostage to unattainable targets. If the Government has reneged on its promise of Localism, that is no reason for councillors to be intimidated into aiding and abetting them. Aslan4
  • Score: 0

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