The Green Belt And Why It Is Important

by Roger Abbott on 12 November, 2016

For my first entry to this blog, maybe I should say something about the Green Belt and why it is so important to me.

In my youth,I lived in a village where, because of the acute post-war housing shortage, huge numbers of houses were built on land that was then similar to the Green Belt today. I saw what happens when we go for big building projects in the vicinity of small communities. The local people see their environment being damaged and they are powerless to do anything about it. Those moving in rarely have any connection with the location and, in the main part, have little experience of type of community currently living there. There becomes a “them and us” feeling in the community. Some of the original community will recognise the inevitable and move away. Others will stay. But this brings in more people from outside. In the end, the indigenous population is swamped, their children move away and as the older generation die, the heritage is lost.

Historically, it is the environment that has shaped the people that live in it. It has formed the people into communities as they both worked it and lived it. Those communities have formed their bonds: to each other and to the landscape. Together there has formed unique community knowledge, a unique community character, a unique community tradition, a unique affection for the environment. This continues today. In the rural areas, fewer people may be actually working the land but they are still surrounded by it, understanding of its uses and sensitive to environmental change. The heritage of the community continues. THIS is our heritage!

It matters not whether the landscape is rural farmland, upland moor, or even inner city. It will, over time, create communities of the people. The problem is that this process takes time, and this time is measured in generations. Bring in significant numbers of people from outside the area; particularly those who have little or no connection to either the community or the environment and severe damage to the community will inevitably follow. Even more people are likely to arrive and this process will destroy the community. As a result, because the new people have neither an understanding of the environment or have a community bond with each other, great harm to the environment is sure to result. It may not be intentional, but the continuity of heritage is lost; forever.

I am not saying that there should be no movement of people between different locations or environments. Far from it! For there to be new people with different ideas and a different outlook entering a community is healthy. It challenges the status quo and keeps the community outward looking. Trade and common values between communities raises prosperity for all and binds the different communities into a country. As I have learned from personal experience, the problem arises when we artificially create a massive influx that overwhelms the existing community.

In this part of Surrey, we have rural communities that are severely under threat. The Green Belt is an area around London that has several very important purposes.

Firstly it is fine agricultural land that we cannot afford to lose. WWII showed that even then we were struggling to feed ourselves. In this respect, we cannot assume that technology will keep up with population growth and so we must plan to retain the best agricultural land for our food factories.

Secondly, the land provides a balance for the pollution and environmental destructiveness of the big city. It may not be perfect but the vegetation and wildlife enable the help clean the atmosphere. In effect it is a natural break between the urban centres.

There are other declared purposes but these are the most important and it follows that we must maintain the green belt if we are to have a sustainable future.

That does not mean we have to preserve it in some idealistic, romantic vision of the past. The rural communities always have adapted to the changes in society as a whole. They have always accepted new technologies and adjusted the ways in which they work the land. As a consequence, the communities have evolved. But they have taken that long heritage with them. THIS is who we are.

Because of the link between them, the key to the future of the green belt is support for the communities who live there. The major problem here is housing, or rather the lack of it. There are far too many people who would like to live in the Green Belt. The paradox is that if they do, it will cease to exist. For the last 50 years or so, we have “protected” the green belt by severely limiting housing and industrial development within it. It is an extremely crude for of control and that is why house prices are so high.

If the communities are to survive they need to maintain a balanced population. That means we have to put a brake on the current practice of allowing residency according to wealth. That is not to say that the communities remain a static population: far from it. People always have always moved from village to village. Some move away, to be replaced by others moving in. As I said before, this is essential.

It follows that we must provide a variety of housing specifically for people from the area, at prices they can afford, who wish to continue living in the Green Belt communities. We also need to ensure that market housing is equally varied in both size and style so those who wish to buy can still find something suitable and affordable.

With such problems, a strong planning force is required in the Green Belt that allows limited developments of housing that is to local need (rather than aspiration.) It also needs to ensure enlargement of existing stock is controlled in order to maintain a balance of housing sizes and therefore relative prices. That implies very strict planning enforcement.

This is entry is just a beginning. There is much philosophy and practical consequences that follow and I will return to some of the specifics in future entries to this blog.

Meanwhile, the estate agents and daytime TV are selling an aspiration that is little more than an illusion. It is not Location Location Location that matters in making a choice of where to live. Community Community Community is far more important; for that is our heritage and our future.

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