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The Commercial Property Review

PUBLISHED: 10:56 26 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:57 20 February 2013

The Commercial Property Review

The Commercial Property Review

A green and pleasant belt of land, but can it stay that way?

The Commercial Property Review

A green and pleasant belt of land, but can it stay that way?

Englands precious Green Belt is successfully checking urban sprawl, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). If England is to build the homes people need, some must be under threat say others. Whats the truth of the matter? We decided to find out.

The facts: Between 12 and 13 percent of England is Green Belt and there are just fourteen areas of Green Belt across the whole country. Gloucestershires Green Belt comprises over 6,500 hectares between Cheltenham and Gloucester. In Oxfordshire, the green belt extends to over 33,000 hectares around the City of Oxford.

According to CPRE Gloucestershire, there are five defined purposes for the Green Belt. As well as restricting the sprawl of large built-up areas, it also prevents neighbouring towns merging, assists in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and preserves the setting and special character of historic towns, assisting urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

However, the Green Belt does not increase public access (i.e. permissive footpaths), nor safeguard visually attractive land (i.e. AONBs).

Queen Elizabeth I ordered the first Green Belt around London in 1580 to stop the spread of the Plague. She wasnt very successful; people still built on it (Elizabethan planning inspectors were evidently not as draconian as those of today).

Luckily, with plagues well behind us (we hope), the Green Belt now serves a different function. In the 1930s the Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed a Metropolitan Green Belt around London, but it was after the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that local authorities began to designate their own Green Belts. Gloucestershires Green Belt was designated in 1958, Oxfordshires around the same time.

According to the Chairman of CPRE Gloucestershire, Charlie Watson, the Gloucester and Cheltenham Green Belt has served its primary purpose well, keeping Cheltenham and Gloucester, and Cheltenham and Bishops Cleeve, from merging into one mass of urban sprawl. He believes it is essential to the quality of our towns that their separate character is retained.

But there is trouble in paradise.On 20 June this year, an appeal to build 135 dwellings by developers Galliards at Hunting Butts Farm, Prestbury, near Cheltenham was dismissed. The proposed development was in Green Belt and the National Planning Policy Framework states that the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open, the essential characteristics of Green Belts being their openness and permanence.

One:Nil to the CPRE, Natural England and other Green Belt supporters then? Yes - this time. But there is a growing clamour for Green Belt development not just from housing developers but from business too.

In his planning appeal conclusion Planning Inspector Lloyd Rodgers said there was an urgent need for more homes in the borough. He added: I accept that it is highly likely that development outside the settlement boundary of Cheltenham, probably in the Green Belt, will be necessary if Cheltenhams housing and economic development needs are to be met.

According to Jeremy Williamson, managing director at Cheltenham Development Task Force, which is responsible for the towns regeneration: Over the last two decades Cheltenham has lost many large businesses as a result of globalisation and the recession, including big employers such as Whitbread, Chelsea Building Society and Kraft.

Its no longer about just attracting new employment into the area, we have a fight on our hands to maintain and grow current employment. Its no secret that the ongoing success of Supergroup has generated a need for the company to expand. Meanwhile other successful Cheltenham-based employers, including manufacturers, are also seeking expansion.

There are empty offices around the town but they are not necessarily suitable for the diverse and specialist needs of many employers seeking space for expansion, access to local infrastructure and proximity to labour if they are to remain competitive and thrive in challenging economic times.

Cheltenham has many successful specialist employers which may be forced to move away from the town if no expansion opportunities can be found.

For this reason it is critical that a balance is struck between protecting the highest valued amenity land whilst also offering opportunities for economic growth, without which we will stifle recovery by failing to support the very businesses that are growing, added Jeremy.

Scott Winnard of Bruton Knowles says that the Green Belt was designed for a different time and its now working against the ideal of sustainable communities, which is to encourage people to work, rest and play in the same area.

People are living in Cheltenham but not working in Cheltenham. When we are looking at the Green Belt we need to allocate areas with defendable boundaries, he said.

Cheltenham needs to provide a further eight to ten thousand new homes by 2030. Although the town does have brown field land, its not enough says Scott, greenfield land is an answer, and some of that is likely to have to be Green Belt.

CPRE Gloucestershire agrees strongly that housing is a big and growing issue, but points out boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances. CPREs Charlie Watson, added: Removing land from the Green Belt for development must be the last resort and kept to the absolute minimum. First, we must make the best use of our under-used land and buildings. Using these existing resources is the most sustainable thing to do in line with the Governments new policy. Only after this has been done should any land of low environmental quality be considered for release.

He goes on to suggest that better and more co-ordinated land management would help the Green Belt deliver vital environmental and other services from attractive landscapes with new woodland to places for recreation and growing local food.

So whos right? Perhaps both perspectives. If the CPRE hadnt fought so hard and so long for the preservation of the Green Belt then many towns and their surrounding countryside would be very different to how they are now. But the need for sustainable housing development is clear. What the CPRE wants is for developers to think more creatively about how to use available land, rather than create sprawling housing and business estates that all look the same.

The advantages of the Green Belt outweigh the disadvantages, according to the UK Government, and it is incumbent on developers to prove that encroachment into the Green Belt is the only solution to deliver the housing and business infrastructure needed for the continuing prosperity of an area.

Running rings around Oxford

As part of its 75th birthday celebrations a few years ago, CPRE Oxfordshire created a 50 mile circular walk to highlight the importance of the Green Belt, created around the city 50 years ago.

The CPRE Oxford Green Belt Way links Oxfords Park & Ride sites and is crossed by major bus routes, making it easy to access the route and travel back to the starting point. The route provides views of Oxfords Dreaming Spires, as well as of Otmoor, Foxcombe Hill and Wytham Woods. The Oxford Green Belt Way has been created with the help of Oxfordshire County Councils Countryside Service and the Oxford Fieldpaths Society.

Earlier this year, The Oxford Green Belt Network, established in 1997 raised concerns over sites for travellers, Oxford City Councils search for the site for a new cemetery, and a range of developments at Begbroke, Garsington, Radley, Shillingford, Shipton-on-Cherwell and Sunningwell.



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