|The rolling hills of a cherished Arcadia|
Britain has an undoubted historic connection to the rolling green hills of Albion. The countryside presents a purer version of the nation in contrast to the supposed dirt and grime of the growing cities. This imagination may have been formed in the Industrial Revolution but still holds sway today and explains the popularity of Green Belt policy. Put simply, this policy safeguards rural land around cities from inappropriate development and contains urban sprawl.
It is no surprise therefore that a proposed relaxation of Green Belt policy has caused outrage among the chattering classes. Geoffrey Lean, writing in the Daily Telegraph, was one who suddenly shone a light on the unrecognised benefits of planning's supposed 'boring' work in protecting quality of life (see here). He was frustrated not just by the proposed concreting over of the countryside, but also by the way the Tories have conducted a volte face on the issue of planning. In opposition the Tories published a Green Paper entitled Open Source Planning which extolled the benefits of Localism. However, Lean is angered by how the Tories have moved from a policy of Localism in opposition (which he implies would protect the Green Belt) to greater central control since in Government.
This move to greater central control should not come as a surprise. Firstly, many political parties preach about greater local powers when in opposition and then quickly forget it when in power. Once in Government the Tories, like many others before them, realise they must keep wayward local governments in line and this requires a degree of central control. Secondly, economic growth is stalled in Britain. Despite the efforts of Eric Pickles MP the concept of Localism, like the Big Society, has floundered and has not convinced the Treasury it can deliver the required growth. This explains why central government is now issuing policy regarding a relaxation of development in the Green Belt to stimulate much needed growth.
|Containing the beast|
While it is good to see planning praised for once, let us not fall back on a dated assumption of what the Green Belt is and the purpose it fills.