Azara Blog: Some greenbelt land should be turned into forests and housing

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Date published: 2006/04/17

The BBC says:

More agricultural and green belt land should be reforested or turned into housing, a new report suggests.

A change in land use is proposed in the study Land Economy by the free market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute.

It says much of the UK's agricultural land, including land currently labelled as green belt, is not especially green.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said planning was key to ensure homes, needed for a growing population, were built in a sustainable way.

Study author Mischa Balen said modern farming techniques turned land into monocultural wastelands that did not provide proper habitats for animals.

Mr Balen called for a change in policy where some farms and green belt would be turned into housing and woodlands.

He said: "If some of these were converted to sympathetic development consisting of 90% woodland, including small lakes and rivers, and 5% each for housing and supporting infrastructure, each farm whose use was changed in this way would yield almost 200,000 square metres (2.15 million sq ft) of new woodland, together with 140 average-sized new homes."

Mr Balen proposed that 3% of all farmland be converted using this system, which would create 950,000 new houses and 130,000 hectares of woodland, which equated to about an 11% increase in the woodland cover of England and Wales.

He said: "None of these new homes would be overlooked by existing houses. Rather, they would be nestled in among new woodland.

"Current homeowners would not face a view altered by new buildings.

"On the contrary, they would see the ugly monoculture fields replaced by natural woods, carefully planted to provide a mixture of different types of trees and undergrowth."

"The fields so barren of insect, bird and animal life, would be replaced by woods rich in biodiversity and providing a habitat for birds and small mammals."

A spokesman for ODPM said: "The government believes we need more new homes for an ageing and growing population. But we also need to make sure that we build these homes in a sustainable way.

"That is why the planning system is so important.

"It is because of the changes we have already made to the planning system that over 70% of new housing developments have been built on brownfield land."

Of course the report is largely correct, but it will never get anywhere in Britain, which is a country run by people who put style above substance. A case in point is the comment from the spokesman for the ODPM. Much land that is designated as "brownfield" is as green as much of the land that is designated as "greenbelt". For example, in Cambridge, the airport is (stupidly) being encouraged to close down and it will be replaced with thousands of (terrible) homes. The airport is designated "brownfield" but it is mostly grass. Similarly, the (terrible) new development at Northstowe is partly located on a disused airfield, so is deemed "brownfield", although most of the land being built on is definitely as "green" as any "greenbelt" land. But politicians and other pseudo-environmentalists have foisted this "brownfield" claptrap on the nation, and it is not going away any time soon. The one niggle with the Adam Smith Institute report is that too much land is going to woodlands and not enough to gardens for the houses themselves. And they are also missing one of the big reasons people get hysterical about new developments. Sure, people are going to miss the view if their village expands, but they will always claim that the big problem is the increase in traffic (allegedly the end of the world), and secondly the alleged lack of services to cope with the increased population (schools, etc.). Of course if the infrastructure was planned properly none of this would be a problem, but this is Britain, and urban planning is abysmal.

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