This is not a groundbreaking piece of journalism, just me practicing the Computer Assisted Reporting skills of finding data, interrogating it and presenting it (although I couldn’t resist digging a bit further).
You can get a copy here. I am using ‘Annex 3: Regional trend in the area of Green Belt land since 1997′ to give a general overview of how Green belt land is spread through England and how much it has changed over the years.
Having got the data into an Excel spreadsheet, I used the Chart Wizard to turn the regional data into a bar chart, while the national figure for green belt land is shown as a line chart. A good tutorial on how to combine different chart types in Excel 2007 can be found here.
Here is a link to the data as a Google spreadsheet, complete with percentage changes through the years. There is no data for the year 2005, and the figures for 08/09 and 09/10 are based on estimates.
What does it show?
We can see that Green Belt levels outside London have remained fairly constant over the past 13 years. The Metropolitan Green belt makes up the highest proportion of green belt land in England, although in 2006 it reduced by 47,520 hectares (almost an 8% decrease).
This correlates with the introduction of The Town and Country Planning (Green Belt) Direction 2005 which came into force on 3 January 2006.
The Bill required local authorities to refer to the Secretary of State for approval any inappropriate planning application, that they did not propose to refuse, for the construction of buildings of more than 1000 sq meters of floor space (roughly 10 new houses).
Previously, local authorities referred such planning applications to the Secretary of State at their discretion.
The Final Regulatory Impact Assessment of the Bill states that:
“The Government gives high priority to the continuing protection of Green Belts from inappropriate development. But it recognises that there is widespread concern about the threats to the Green Belt from development pressures. It wants to ensure that harmful, inappropriate development in the Green Belt remains an exception.”
The statistics show a failure to protect the Green Belt from ‘development pressures’ in London and the South-East. The data doesn’t show how much of the development was ‘inappropriate’ or what was blocked by the Secretary of State (John Prescott was First Secretary of State from 2001-2007).
In December 2005, Economist Kate Barker was asked by the government to conduct an independent review of Land Use planning. Her report, published a year later recommended that:
“Planning authorities and regional planning bodies should continue to review green belt boundaries to ensure that they remain appropriate given sustainable development needs, including regeneration.”
Wherever you stand on the issue, new housing vs green spaces, it looks like there is a trend towards development. With cash-strapped councils looking for ways to raise funds, even England’s beloved Green Belts are no longer sacred.