Data blog: three authorities took bites from the green belt in 2013/14

Three local planning authorities adopted new plans in 2013/14 which resulted in a decrease in the overall area of England's green belt, according to official figures published today.

According to the figures, published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), overall there has been a decrease of 540 hectares in the area of green belt between 2012/13 and 2013/14. The figures show that in 2013/14 three authorities - Rochford, South Gloucestershire and West Lancashire - adopted new green belt boundaries.

The area of Rochford's designated green belt decreased by 190 hectares, according to the figures, while South Gloucestershire's green belt area was reduced by 210 hectares as the result of new plans being adopted. The area of West Lancashire's green belt decreased by by 150 hectares in 2013/14, the statistics show.

However, the DCLG figures show these incursions into the green belt have had a minimal impact on the overall extent of the green belt, reducing its area by only around 0.03 per cent. The overall extent of the green belt was estimated at 1,638,610 hectares in 2013/14, around 13 per cent of the land area of England, and the chart below shows that there has been very little change between 2008/09 and 2013/14. In fact, the extent of the green belt in 2013/14 was higher than in 1997, when the DCLG's data series begins, according to the department.

The incursion into West Lancashire's green belt also has very little impact on a table of the 20 local authorities that are most constrained by the green belt. West Lancashire remains fourth in a table of local authority areas with the greatest proportion of green belt within their boundaries (see below). In 2013/14 the district was 90.4 per cent green belt, down from 90.8 per cent in 2012/13, according to our analysis.

Responding to the figures, David Churchill, director at consultancy Iceni Projects, said: "These latest figures are further evidence of the obsession with the arbitrary defence of the green belt, which continues to contribute to the housing crisis. "Mixed messages from government have created a paralysis that has profound social and economic implications. A consistent and pragmatic approach from central and local government is required in order to properly address the issue and kick start building for the future."

Tim Taylor, partner and head of planning at law firm Forsters LLP, added: "Although the amount of land in England's green belt is broadly unchanged, the reality is that the belt is tightening. The loss of just 0.03 per cent of the green belt last year should be contrasted with the 295,000 new homes which need to be built every year. "Instead of celebrating the tightness of the green belt, we should be having a major debate about its actual role and purpose in 2014. Surely something is wrong with our planning system if we can celebrate 13 per cent of our country being unbuildable green belt, while at the same time cramming our population into just 9 per cent of our land area? Does the green belt really deserve such strict protection? I doubt the millions of people needing new homes think so."

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