How much protection for the Green Belt does the NPPF actually offer?

 Taken from a statement issued by MP Eric Pickles Secretary of State for  Communities and Local Government.  6th September 2012.                                                                                                                                              

“The Green Belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a ‘green lung’ around towns and cities. The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to safeguarding Green Belt and other environmental designations, which they have been in the new National Planning Policy Framework. The Localism Act allows for the abolition of Labour’s Regional Spatial Strategies which sought to bulldoze the Green Belt around thirty towns and cities across the country, subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment process, as outlined in my Statement of 3 September 2012, Official Report, Column 5WS.

As has always been the case, councils can review local designations to promote growth. We encourage councils to use the flexibilities set out in the National Planning Policy Framework to tailor the extent of Green Belt land in their areas to reflect local circumstances. Where Green Belt is considered in reviewing or drawing up Local Plans, we will support councils to move quickly through the process by prioritising their Local Plan examinations… There is considerable previously developed land in many Green Belt areas, which could be put to more productive use. We encourage Councils to make best use of this land, whilst protecting the openness of the Green Belt in line with the requirements in the National Planning Policy Framework.”

However:-

“The Localism Act has put the power to plan back in the hands of communities, but with this power comes responsibility: a responsibility to meet their needs for development and growth, and to deal quickly and effectively with proposals that will deliver homes, jobs and facilities.

Today we are announcing a series of additional measures to drive the effective implementation of these reforms and remove unnecessary bureaucracy that can hinder sustainable growth.

Given the importance of efficient and effective planning decisions for the economy, we need to ensure that where there are clear failures in performance, that applicants are able to access a better service.

We propose to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions. Planning is a quasi-judicial process: justice delayed is justice denied. It is unfair to all parties for local planning authorities simply to fail to make timely decisions on a planning application – creating uncertainty both for applicants and local residents.”

These are difficult economic times. The banks have created a difficult qualification criteria for borrowers. Builders seek the best returns possible on developments. Green Belt offers the cheapest development land and  developers have historically bought green belt land without planning permission to add to their land-banks. Councils are unable to force developers to build in areas that are economically unsound in the present climate.

A Planning Inspector in his examination of Local Plans would expect to see realistically developable sites identified in new Local Plans. In Castle Point any newly identified site would be viewed with suspicion by the Inspector. Having spent so many years on producing the failed Core Strategy, to have sites suddenly become identified either without plans or with plans with difficult hurdles to be over come, suspicion will be raised by critics of our new Local Plan. 

Castle Point Borough Council have done an admirable job over the years on behalf of their electorate in protecting the Mainland Green Belt, either by targetting growth towards Canvey Island or by erecting hurdles in front of Mainland applications. If a new Local Plan is produced that identifies the required growth sites that do not have developers in place to proceed, the Inspectorate will identify and reject the Plan. If this is part of a delaying tactic, one that has been successful in the past, it must be addressed, eventually failure will result.

Painful decision making gets no easier by putting off. It is possible to play the electorate along by posturing in the newspapers, but eventually the Authority will have to make a decision, and as the Inspectorate has already identified the previous tactic of promoting an imbalance in growth towards Canvey Island Green Belt, it may be the day for difficult decision making is nearing.

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