Hertfordshire - Campaign to Protect Rural England

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Protecting our Green Belt

St Albans Abbey viewed across Green Belt St Albans Abbey viewed across Green Belt Photo: © Elizabeth Hamilton

Look at a map of Hertfordshire and you may be surprised to see open countryside so close to London. This remarkable survival is thanks largely to the London (or Metropolitan) Green Belt. From its foundation in 1926 CPRE has campaigned to protect countryside from urban sprawl, but it took nearly 30 years to achieve the establishment of Green Belts as we know them today.

The main purposes of Green Belts are: to protect open countryside from the unrestricted spread of built-up areas; and to retain the separate identities and historic settings of villages, towns and cities. Within Green Belts agriculture, forestry and related uses are allowed, while opportunities for public access to open countryside, recreation and landscape and nature conservation are encouraged.

Ebenezer Howard's principles for Garden Cities, put into practice in Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City, included a belt of open countryside encircling them. Later, at a conference organised by CPRE in 1930 in Welwyn Garden City, Sir Theodore Chambers spoke out against 'the evil of ribbon development' and called for a planned open belt of countryside around London. Early attempts to protect land in this way involved large-scale purchases by local authorities, including Hertfordshire County Council. This expensive solution was eventually replaced in 1955 by regulations preventing development in designated Green Belt, except for typical countryside uses. These remain essentially unchanged to this day.

More than half of Hertfordshire is now Green Belt, mostly around London and between the towns along the main roads crossing the county. It has done its job remarkably well. Our villages and towns have, on the whole, retained their separate identities. Approach St Albans from the north-west along the old Roman Watling Street (now the A5183) and you get a remarkable view of the Cathedral on its hill-top, unimpeded by urban development.

Open countryside on our doorstep is increasingly recognised and valued as vital for health and well-being. Taking exercise in green spaces, even just being able to see greenery and wildlife, can improve our mood. The Green Belt is working countryside, too. Even the leg of the Hertfordshire Way closest to London, which our sponsored walkers trod earlier this year, passes through productive agricultural land.

In many places in Hertfordshire, the abundance of trees, woods and tall hedges helps make the Green Belt seem very rural. But look again at the map and you will see that in places it is precariously thin: sometimes barely more than a field's width prevents a town from joining up with its neighbour.

Hertfordshire's Green Belt is continually under threat from development proposals: for houses, industrial buildings, education sites, waste facilities and the roads to serve them. CPRE Hertfordshire believes this countryside is too precious to squander: once built on it will be gone forever. This is why protecting the Green Belt for future generations to enjoy is at the heart of our campaigning.

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