Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Green Belts - controlling urban sprawl

To restrict development on greenfield sites (sites that have not previously been built on), urban sprawl has been constrained by the creation of Green Belts. Green Belts were created in 1947 as 'collars of land' around urban areas where development is severely restricted to preserve the character of the environment.

Whilst green belts have successfully slowed urban sprawl, in some cases they may protect land of little value, whilst development 'leap-frogs' the constraints of the green belt and begins to grow on the higher quality land beyond it.
Wedges of protected land, as opposed to a surrounding 'collar' have been suggested as a way of allowing controlled growth, whilst protecting high-quality land. Indeed the debate about the future of greenbelts has increased and campaigners are trying to protect greenbelt land.

There are concerns in a number of areas, as further urban development threatens the existing Green Belts. Countryside around both Stevenage and Cambridge is under threat due to plans for the development of new homes, whilst other areas are under threat from other types of development, including plans for a park and ride scheme on the edge of Cambridge.

Case Study: Pressures on the Cambridge Green Belt

In the 1990s, increasing competition for land at the rural-urban fringe to create more jobs and houses, put pressure on green belt areas to release more land.

Cambridge is a famous, historic city with many job opportunities available, easy access to other places and pleasant surrounding countryside. It is protected from urban sprawl by a green belt.

  • - increase in population have previously been dealt with by increased suburbanisation of villages and the creation of new settlements, e.g. Bar Hill and Cambourne, and the newly designated Northstowe (which begins construction in 2008)
  • - over the next 15 years, 42,000 houses need to built in Cambridgeshire to accommodate the increasing population - putting great pressure on the Green Belt
  • - current Green Belt is designed to prevent the mergence of neighbouring settlements, protect the countryside and maintain the character of the city of Cambridge
  • - review of the Green Belt was carried out in 2001 to assess its present success and areas which could be released for development in a sustainable way
  • - the current proposal for development includes 8,000 homes on the edge of Cambridge on land currently in the Green Belt
  • - other options still include, the creation of new settlements and the development of nearby market towns
The key question for debate is whilst provision of new houses is putting pressure on land, should we build on Brownfield sites (areas previously built on which have been demolished) or Greenfield sites (area of countryside, previously never built on)

Why build on Brownfield Sites?
- many areas have unoccupied houses which could be upgraded
- brownfield sites already have utilities such as water and gas pipes
- development in urban as opposed to rural areas can help reduce reliance on cars

Why build on Greenfield Sites?
- cheaper to build on (don't have demolition costs) and lower land-values than in urban areas
- generally perceived as better quality of life in the countryside

Follow up links:
How GreenBelts have benefitted Britain (BBC Video)
"Elastic Band" Green Belt Claim (BBC Article)
Is the Greenbelt an outdated concept? (BBC Article)
Radio 4 News Report - "Is the Greenbelt an outdated concept?"
Warning over Green Belt Hunger (BBC Article)
Is the Green Belt getting 'looser'? (BBC Article)
Green Belt 'at risk of homes' (Gloucesteshire) (BBC Article)
New Developments in the Cambridgeshire Area (linked to Urban sprawl)
Cambridge Green Belt Study
A 'green and pleasant' land (BBC) Article)
Brownfield Land Development

Key term check:
GreenBelts - countryside area around an urban area which are protected from development to restrict urban sprawl
Brownfield Site - an area of land previously build on where developments have been demolished and new building can take place
Greenfield Site - an area of countryside never built on before

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