Boles defends councils making 'painful and difficult' decisions over green belt

Planning minister Nick Boles has defended councils making 'painful and difficult' decisions over redrawing green belt boundaries and said the government will look at clarifying the terminology around the designation of 'safeguarded land' in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Planning minister Nick Boles
Planning minister Nick Boles

In a Commons debate yesterday, Conservative MP for York Outer, Julian Sturdy, said the allocation of safeguarded land by the City of York Council in its emerging local plan was "causing profound concern" among his constituents.

The NPPF says that councils should "where necessary, identify in their plans areas of ‘safeguarded land’ between the urban area and the green belt, in order to meet longer-term development needs stretching well beyond the plan period".

Sturdy said he was concerned that "once land has been removed from the green belt, it is effectively lost, gone forever as development is practically guaranteed to occur on the site at some point in future.

"Although local authorities are encouraged to make it clear that safeguarded land is not currently available for development, I fear that, sadly, some weak-willed local authorities may sacrifice the long-term interests of local residents for short-term gain by permitting development ahead of schedule".

In response, Boles said he could "state clearly that there has never been a time when the protections of green belt land have been clearer or more explicit in national policy than now".

But he said that there are councils that are making "painful and difficult" decisions to redraw green belt boundaries.

"I do not criticise any council that is going down that road, because it is right that it, as the duly-elected local authority, should be able to. The local authority must, however, go openly and transparently into that process with evidence and after a great deal of consultation", he said.

On the issue of safeguarded land, Boles said he accepted the point that it is an "often misunderstood concept".

He said: "I have to confess that for several months at the beginning of my time in this post, I, too, was somewhat confused about whether it was ‘safeguarded for’ or ‘safeguarded from’. He makes a good point about the terminology being — it is not deliberate — rather baffling to people. ‘Safeguarded’ seems to suggest protection, rather than an allocation for future development needs".

He stressed that local authorities "must act carefully and with evidence" when safeguarding sites and that safeguarding is "not mandatory and authorities should use it only if necessary".

Boles said he would commit to "go away and look at the simple question of the terminology and whether there could be better wording".

"When the NPPF is reviewed, whether we can better clarify that wording will be on the agenda", he said.

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