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Is greenbelt land at risk?

Greenbelt land acts as a barrier between different urbanised sites including cites, villages and so on, which of course expand over time. The greenbelt land around these sites is a preventer of ‘urban sprawl’. This measure was introduced following World War Two.

Nicki Brunt, a representative of the Dorset Wildlife Trust sees urban sprawl as a danger to wildlife. Her organisation is also consulted on any potential building involving the greenbelt.

“Urban sprawl is a problem. Connecting land is important if it sits between two significant wildlife sites because species need to move. We need to keep these ecological networks open for our wildlife to prosper.”

pexels-photo-110812Animals require connecting land to pass between habitats.

“This isn’t a generality. We take planning opportunities on a case by case basis. If certain areas of conservation sites have been degraded, we could advise planners to enable some building work but in return, ask for measures to be taken to preserve the surrounding areas.”

“But sometimes opportunities to build in the greenbelt are better than building on the last available green space in urban areas, because these are an important stepping stone for our wildlife.”

Nicki’s concern is not unfounded. The number of houses built in the UK has hit its lowest point since the 1920s. With a surprise snap election to take place next month, parties are promising to fix this problem, with particular emphasis on creating ‘affordable housing’ to fill the deficit of residential properties. Labour have committed to build one million homes in five years whilst the Liberal Democrats similarly promise 300’000 new houses per annum.

pexels-photo-12255Concerns over the use of greenfield sites for development are rife within the conservation community.

With such policies come other issues. For example, where will these houses be built? We have a variety of options, including greenbelt land.

Only 11% of England’s landscape is populated by urban settlements.

Brownfield sites refer to land which has already seen some form of development in the past, but may have since been abandoned or left empty. In late 2016, The campaign to protect Rural England carried out an in-depth analysis of the Government’s brownfield register scheme. With the data they had access to, they estimated we have room for 1.1 million new homes on brownfield sites all across England.

Bournemouth Borough councillor and representative of the Green Party, Simon Bull expressed his views on the use of brownfield sites.

“There are a large number of empty properties in this country where more could be done to bring them back into use. There will come a point where some greenfield land will have to be used for housing but before we get to that point, let’s consider our other options, brownfield sites included. Part of what makes our country what it is and enjoyable to live in, are the natural green spaces for people to enjoy.”

pexels-photo-277607Abandoned or disused buildings could be replaced with newer developments.

Simon then went on to list some of the issues that come with building on the greenbelt as opposed to brownfield areas.

“We have to be careful, particularly when we encroach upon the greenbelt with roads. Research has shown that building roads doesn’t ease congestion, it brings more people onto the roads and more buying cars. It’s used as an excuse to build on greenbelt land and I think it should be prevented.”

Some experts would disagree that the use of brownfield as a first resort is unnecessary. Only 11% of England’s landscape is populated by urban settlements. Therefore, greenfield land could hold the opportunity for new housing development.

But the protection of wildlife in these areas remains a barrier to developers. Other measures are also in place to defend greenfield land against such breaches. For example, sites of special scientific interest are preserved for their unique possession of natural characteristics. There are currently 4’126 sites across England.

Areas of outstanding natural beauty, of which there are 46 across the UK, provide the public with a form of retreat from the urban to rural surroundings. For this purpose, they are also protected. Natural parks again, a statutorily protected status due to their importance to various ecosystems and species of wildlife. All three of the above are designated by the organisation Natural England. They act as a government advisor regarding the preservation of landscapes across Britain.


Other experts are less worried about the depletion of greenfield sites, down to the availability of brownfield sites alongside a chain of broken promises regarding housing policy from previous governments. For example, David Cameron’s Conservative government promised to build 200’000 properties for homeowners as part of their 2015 manifesto, producing little to no results.




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