Barnsley Green Belt under attack
If you want to see what Green Belts were designed to achieve, then you should walk east-north-east along Hermit Lane from the village of Higham Common, towards Gawber. Gawber is on the north-eastern edge of Barnsley and has already merged into the town's built-up area. As you set off on your journey you are just over an hour's walk from Barnsley railway station. The M1 motorway rumbles behind you. From this high ground you have panoramic views stretching 30 miles east, over the Magnesian limestone to the Selby coalfields and Drax power station. Dip down into the peaceful, steep-sided wooded valley of Redbrook, and then climb up towards Gawber. Turn around and you can see 20 miles west to the Pennine moorlands and Holme Moss. The land around you is a mixture of arable farming, pasture and horse paddocks, criss-crossed by hedgerows that itch with the to and fro of birds and insects. A couple of dog-walkers nod to you in greeting. Although you know you are close to Barnsley and to tens of thousands of people, you have a vantage point that shows you precisely what the purposes of a Green Belt are: to maintain openness and distinction between neighbouring settlements, and a strong fringe of countryside around urban areas for farming, recreation and open space. The Green Belt is both a physical break and a psychological one.
Try repeating this walk in a few years' time, and there is a high risk you'll be passing through a pattern-book boulevard of generic, new-build houses and then between two industrial estates dominated by faceless sheds, and crossing a new link road up which trucks noisily grind from Barugh Green, in the north, up to Junction 37 of the M1. The panoramic views will be forgotten and the suburban sprawl of Barnsley will have absorbed Higham and Barugh Green and be pressed hard against the motorway cutting. You will be in the middle of 'Barnsley West', a new swathe of development equivalent in size to the whole village of Dodworth, which is just across the motorway. To make matters worse, the chances are that many of the industrial units will be un-occupied and festooned with 'To Let' signs, while the new housing estates will be generating a procession of cars shuttling commuters onto the motorway and off to jobs on the outskirts of Leeds.
Barnsley West is an emerging proposal for 1500 houses and 40 hectares of employment land, and a masterplan is due to be submitted to the Council any time now. At the moment it is difficult to ascertain what Barnsley Council intends for the site, as it didn't feature in the 2012 consultation on Sites and Policies for Barnsley's Local Plan, but it may well be in the next consultation that is due very soon. Of course, 1500 homes on one site would make a sizeable contribution to Barnsley's housing requirement, but CPRE is no doubt that this is the wrong place to do so, and we will be watching this case very closely. Meanwhile, local activists are already hard at work raising awareness of what would be lost if the development went ahead: their Keep it Green campaign includes walking tours of the site, and the recent one was attended by 90 people. You can find them at www.area215barnsley.org.uk and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/keepitgreen2014