'Woods and homes' green belt call

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.

green belt homes

'950,000 houses'

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."

The institute said the proposals were in keeping with Conservative Party leader David Cameron's recent remarks ahead of changes to planning policy.

'Pastoral landscape'

Mr Balen said current laws led to restrictive planning rules which stifled rural economic growth.

The report said it was crucial to protect the environment and make sure people could afford houses, and this proposal would achieve both.

National Farmers' Union spokesman Anthony Gibson said: "The English countryside is essentially a pastoral landscape, that's what makes it special.

"I think we ignore the qualities that have given the English landscape the fame and the resonance that it has at our peril...

"I'm not sure that very many people would very much enjoy the prospect of seeing vast swaths of the countryside covered in a mixture of concrete and forestry."

www.bbc.co.uk, 17.04.2006

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