National Trust pays 1m for greenbelt fields

The National Trust scored its first success in a bid to preserve the countryside as it announced the 1 million purchase of 470 acres of green belt land under threat of development.

It has bought the land on Divis and Black Mountain, the upland backdrop to Belfast, using money from the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and Ulster Garden Villages.

The move comes after Sir William Proby, the trust's chairman, vowed last week that the body would consider buying green belt, rural and open space land to prevent it being used for housing.

advertisementBut the Charity Commission is investigating claims that the Trust is abusing its charitable position by entering the green belt debate.

Phyllis Starkey, the Labour chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee of the Commons, who oversees housing policy, joined in the criticism, saying that Sir William should "do his homework before he sounds off".

She said: "I don't think the National Trust's intervention is at all helpful or relevant.

"Nobody is talking about wholesale change to the green belt, but there is a debate about whether the existing green belt should be completely sacrosanct."

Sir William said the purchase was a "marvellous acquisition". He added: "It fits perfectly with the debate I launched at the weekend about how the Trust should respond to threats to our green spaces arising from the increasing scale of development across the UK."

The Trust also faced criticism over its sale of 45 acres of farmland in Dorset to a developer who plans to build houses there. The land could be big enough for 500 homes.

The Trust stands to make 50 per cent of the developer's profits, which could be worth as much as £10 million.

Kate Ashbrook, the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said the Trust would have to justify its actions.

She added: "It is hypocrisy if they are talking about buying one bit of land [to block development] and selling another bit for development - that is something they would have to justify.", 08.11.2007

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