Green belts to benefit future generations not current housing developers
Letter to the editor...
Your special feature on Sheffield’s Green Belt (26th July) raises some crucial issues about how we value our open spaces and the unique connection Sheffield has to its surrounding countryside.
We are yet to see the draft new Local Plan for the city, but we know two things: the City Council is trying hard to focus new development on brownfield sites; but there will be proposals for some major schemes in the Green Belt.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has been at the forefront of shaping and defending Sheffield’s Green Belt since the 1930s. Without the Green Belt, Sheffield would have sprawled many more miles along the river valleys and out into beautiful landscapes. It would also have been a less attractive and less healthy city, because the Green Belt brought the countryside into town and created ‘The Outdoor City’.
Last year, CPRE published a ‘Blueprint for Sheffield’s Green Belt’, which set out our vision. Sheffield should only grow outwards if it is making the best of use of existing urban land, including remodelling run-down neighbourhoods and improving urban green space. Brownfield sites should be prioritised, so long as they are in the right places to help create good, sustainable places. And the Green Belt should only change if this will create truly exceptional outcomes for quality of life – not just more housing.
Meeting people’s need for a decent home is fundamental. Therefore an essential test of proposed Green Belt changes is whether they will genuinely address housing need. Nationally, we have just published a report that shows Local Plans across the country are set to release Green Belt land for around 460,000 homes, but only 22% of those will be affordable. This is a damaging double-whammy.
Perhaps the greatest threat Sheffield’s Green Belt faces is that many of the sites housebuilders are itching to develop are in affluent, high-demand areas, where they want to build large, expensive homes. Time and again we have seen developers wriggle out of their obligations to build affordable homes. As a result, expensive areas will become more expensive, as new homes fuel demand, while poorer areas that need investment will be left behind. This means there is a huge risk that Green Belt changes in Sheffield will worsen the already deep social inequalities in Sheffield.
We were delighted to see that Stocksbridge and Penistone MP, Angela Smith, raised exactly these issues in Parliament recently. Her constituency contains land and neighbourhoods that perfectly illustrate the challenge: brownfield sites in areas needing regeneration, and tracts of beautiful countryside that should be protected for everyone, not sold to the highest bidder for exclusive housing. We hope that Sheffield City Council, through the new Local Plan, will take a robust approach to meeting this challenge.