We’ve written to all Hertfordshire MPs…

30th July 2021

We’ve highlighted the growing disconnect between recent Government statements and national planning policy regarding Green Belt protection, and the application of planning policy at a local level. We’ve urged our MPs to press Government to issue clear guidance to local planning authorities and inspectors on the need to protect designated areas from inappropriate development of all kinds and that meeting housing targets is never a reason to cause irreversible harm to our Green Belt.

The text of our letter to MPs follows –

The Green Belt is under greater threat than ever before

I am writing to you to share a copy of a research paper prepared by CPRE Hertfordshire – the Countryside Charity.  This research builds on the “Countryside next door: State of the Green Belt 2021”, prepared by the national CPRE office earlier in the year, and relates it specifically to the situation in Hertfordshire.

As you know, issues concerning the Green Belt and other designated protected areas, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are becoming increasingly significant in the County, both with regard to Local Plan preparation and the determination of planning applications for residential development in the Green Belt, and the subsequent planning appeals where the local planning authority refuses permission.

Our study identifies that over 54,000 houses are planned to be built on Hertfordshire Green Belt and national evidence suggests that only a tiny proportion (c. 10%) of those houses will make any significant impact on the affordable housing crisis.  Loss of countryside to development will also jeopardise many other objectives of Government policy, including addressing the climate emergency and biodiversity gain.

In 2010 the Government announced its commitment to Green Belt protection. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) clearly states that the existence of protected areas (Green Belt, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Local Green Space, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and similar designations) “provides a strong reason for restricting the overall scale, type or distribution of development in the plan area”.

In December 2020 the Government further strengthened its guidance in a statement on the response to the public consultation on changes to the planning system. During 2021 several senior leaders in the Government have continued to issue statements regarding the importance of protecting the Green Belt.

Yet, despite the policies and stated positions, as we make representations on Local Plans which are still at various stages of preparation and examination (Welwyn-Hatfield, North Herts, Dacorum, Three Rivers, Hertsmere and St Albans), we are finding these plans are focused on meeting what Local Councillors and Officials believe to be non-negotiable housing targets which do not reflect the current planning policy, nor do they reflect the most recent government statements.

So, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a growing disconnect between recent Government statements and national planning policy and the application of planning policy at a local level.

CPRE Hertfordshire is committed to the provision of appropriate housing for all sections of the community, including truly affordable housing.  In our view, the large-scale release of Green Belt land, as presently envisaged in Local Plans in the County, is both highly damaging to the environment and fails to address pressing housing needs.

While the forthcoming Planning Bill – due later this year – clearly offers an opportunity for further clarity and reform of the planning system we believe it is critical that in the interim the Government should issue clear guidance to local planning authorities and inspectors on the need to protect designated areas from inappropriate development of all kinds and that meeting housing targets is never a reason to cause irreversible harm to our Green Belt.

We would be delighted to discuss any aspect of the report with yourself, or colleagues in your office, and provide any further information which you would find helpful.

Yours sincerely

Martin Varco, Chief Executive

Attached: We’re losing the Green Belt – CPRE Hertfordshire July 2021

Green Belt land northeast of Letchworth Chris Howe