Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Green Belt is not the countryside

Did you make your childhood memories in the Green Belt?

The CPRE would like to know and it's "Our Green Belt" campaign has been launched 'to show the Government how important it is us'. According to the CPRE:

It’s where we relax. It’s where we watch wildlife. It’s where we take part in our hobbies. It’s where we eat and drink. It’s where we feel inspired. It’s where we make memories.

Powerful, evocative stuff.

According to a poll from Ipsos Mori though, which was commissioned by the CPRE itself, only 23% of people claim to know a 'fair amount' amount the Green Belt. A quarter of people in England have never even heard of the Green Belt and that figure is 62% for 15-24 year olds.

Even those who claim to know a 'fair amount' about the Green Belt will probably not be aware that it's five purposes as set out in the NPPF make no provision at all for public access of any kind,  so it is not actually for relaxing and watching wildlife, but let's put that pretty important point to one side and consider whether those that are aware of it really do associate it with wildlife, hobbies, inspiration and memories. 

Natural England monitor engagement with the natural environment and it records three general types of place (countryside, town and city, and coast), and within them the following specific types of place:
  • Park in a town or city
  • Path, cycleway, bridleway
  • Woodland/forest
  • River, lake, canal
  • Playing field or other recreation area
  • Another open space in town or city
  • Another open space in the countryside
  • Farmland 
  • Country park
  • Beach
  • Village
  • Children’s playground
  • Other coastline
  • Mountain, hill, moorland
  • Allotment/community garden
"Come on, Kids. It's Sunday afternoon and the sun is shining. Let's go out to the Green Belt", said no parent ever.

Now of course some woodlands, canals, country parks, etc are with the Green Belt, but proportionately speaking, those that are cannot make as much of a contribution to our collective experience than the woodlands, canals, country parks, etc that are not because there is significantly more green space other than the Green Belt (in England) than there is Green Belt (which accounts for 13% of land). Further, 33% of England's Green Belt is, as the Adam Smith Institute point out, intensively farmed. A good proportion of the remainder, it can be contended, is put to equine and golfing uses. The Green Belt is not the countryside.

Sunny, Sunday afternoons in our house meant the adventure playground at Belton House near Grantham, which a National Trust property and it is not unreasonable to think that most people's childhood memories include a trip in the car to the coast, to a National Park or to a local nature reserve. As the CPRE suggest in another advert, horsey types (and golfers) might be practising their hobbies in our Green Belt, but inhabitants of Green Belt encircled towns and cities might in greater numbers be crossing the Green Belt to get to the countryside and making in reverse on the weekend the journeys that commuters are doing during the week.

The CPRE is a campaigning organisation that needs to be campaigning about something. It is seeking donations 'to stop our Green Belt disappearing'. The Adam Smith Institute promotes libertarian and free-market ideas and advocates the abolition of the Green Belt. Is the Green Belt black? No. Is it white? It is fifty shades of grey and it's future lies somewhere between these points and a wholesale review that ends up releasing land accessible by public transport and which serves the five NPPF purposes the least, in exchange for publicly-accessible land of landscape and amenity value upon people might actually be allowed to relax, make memories, and so on.

Getting to that point though will take so much longer for as long as opinion-formers remain so polarising.

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