Fears growing of green belt confrontation

COUNTRYSIDE campaigners believe that a bitter clash is looming with the Government over growing fears that greenbelt land is to be turned over to property developers in the rush to build more affordable home.

Suspicion deepened last night when Hazel Blears, the newly appointed Communities Secretary, announced that a large-scale affordable housing programme was now a major Government priority - and specifically refused to say building would be allowed on green belt land. She did admit, however, that there would be a "tussle ahead."

Ominously for Yorkshire countryside lovers, she added that this was not just a problem in London and the South East - "there are pressures everywhere."

Her statement set alarm bells ringing at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which was formed 81 years ago to stop urban sprawl. The green belt policy was its first major triumph and, until now, has been largely supported both Tory and Labour governments.

Under Tony Blair, heavy emphasis was placed on building low cost housing on "brown field" sites. Conservationists fear that new Prime Minister Gordon Brown may be preparing to reverse that policy.

CPRE policy director Neil Sinden warned: "Green belt policy has been vital in securing sustainable urban communities, and attractive and accessible countryside close to where most of us live.

"The green belt is hugely valued by the public, 84% of whom believe that it should remain open and undeveloped. The Communities Secretary's belittling of these views shows a disturbing disregard for public opinion."

There are many towns and large villages on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales - an area of very high property prices - which property developers have long coveted. In prosperous mid-Wharfedale, green field land would fetch many millions if released for building.

And in the Aire valley near Keighley, which falls into the Bradford Met area, there have been running arguments for some 20 years as the council encouraged the building of new housing estates which threatened to join small villages together.

Much of that area is on flood plain land which may, or may not, discourage future development in view of recent flooding - but the Government is said to be pressing on with plans to build tens of thousands of homes on River Thames flood plains east of London.

daelnet.co.uk, 12.07.2007

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