Largest drop in green belt 'in recent years', government statistics reveal

There was a decrease of more than 5,000 hectares in the area of green belt across England between March 2017 and March 2018, the largest drop 'in recent years', the latest government statistics have revealed.

Green belt: 0.3 per cent drop in size across England last year
Green belt: 0.3 per cent drop in size across England last year

Local Planning Authority Green Belt: England 2017/18, published today by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) reveals that, between 31 March 2017 and 31 March 2018, ten English councils together released more than 5,070 hectares of green belt land.

This represents 0.3 per cent of the overall green belt across England, the statistical release says.

According to the data, this was up from 790 hectares in 2016/17; 1,020 hectares in 2015/16; 2,130 hectares in 2014/15; 530 hectares in 2013/14; 320 hectares in 2012/13; 50 hectares in 2011/12 and zero hectares in 2010/11 (see chart below).

The ten councils behind the latest 5,070 hectare release are: Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, Cheshire East, Coventry, Croydon, Dacorum, Sefton, Sunderland, Sutton, and Warwick.

The document says that the "reported decrease of 5,070 hectares of green belt during 2017/18 is the largest decrease reported in recent years".

It says that the number of councils "making amendments has also increased in recent years, particularly from 2014/15 onwards".

The figures show that in 2016/17, eight councils changed their green belt boundaries; this was the same in 2015/16; 11 in 2014/15; three in 2013/14; four in 2012/13; and three in 2011/12 and 2010/11.

Countryside campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said that government planning policy is helping to drive the loss of green belt.

Rebecca Pullinger, planning campaigner at CPRE, said: "National planning rules require local councils to show exceptional circumstances when they remove land from the green belt. These statistics illustrate that since 2012, such changes are no longer exceptional.

"The government must stop heaping pressure on councils to deliver unrealistic targets that result in the green belt being chipped away. Instead, developers should be held more accountable to deliver the homes that they have promised".

An MHCLG spokesman said: "The green belt is bigger today than in 1997. We are committed to delivering the homes our country needs but that doesn’t mean building all over the green belt.     

"That’s why we have strengthened green belt protection through the publication of our revised National Planning Policy Framework earlier this year. Under this, planning authorities have to demonstrate they have exhausted all other reasonable options to meet development needs before even considering changes to the green belt and then evidence exceptional circumstances to justify development."

This article was updated at 15:20 on 04/10/18 to include the above quote from MHCLG

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