Brown's economist calls for homes and shops to be built on the green belt

Property developers were given the go-ahead yesterday to build on the green belt with radical proposals to speed up the construction of homes and shops.

Kate Barker, the economist commissioned by Gordon Brown to address planning delays, called for an urgent review of green-belt boundaries. She suggested that some of it could meet housing needs.

Ms Barker also proposed giving the go-ahead for more supermarkets and shopping malls, both in town centres and on their outskirts. She made it clear that the market, rather than councils, should dictate development.

The Barker Review of Land Use Planning argues that economic and social benefit should take precedence in siting future developments, even if that meant encroaching on undeveloped land.

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Many of her proposals, including a new planning commission for national projects such as nuclear power stations, are expected to be contained in a White Paper next year.

The report, which enraged environment and rural groups such as Friends of the Earth, says that business developers and communities face high costs due to a slow and bureacratic planning system. Current restrictions had also stifled competition and choice while more houses were desperately needed.

Ms Barker, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, argued that green belt boundaries often led to increased emissions and pollution caused by commuters in cars, buses and trains.

She recommends redrawing the green belt to include “green wedges” or “green corridors” with spaces for homes and other developments. Much of the green belt, which accounts for 12.9 per cent of all land in England, was “low value agricultural land with little landscape quality and limited public access”, Ms Barker said.

Much of the urban fringe was run down and could be used to develop homes or businesses, she argued, citing a poll suggesting that most people were unaware how little land was already developed. But Friends of the Earth said that her recommendations would give business and supermarket chains a much bigger say and have a “devastating impact on the environment and local democracy”.

Hugh Ellis, Friends of the Earth’s planning adviser, said: “Barker’s vision of uncontrolled development will mean communities have little or no say in how their local area is developed.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that her recommendations would speed up urban sprawl all over the countryside. “Green belts have never been entirely sacrosanct, nor should they be, but they are one of England’s most effective, best known and most popular planning tools,” Shaun Spiers, the CPRE’s chief executive, said.

Caroline Spelman, the Shadow Communities Secretary, said: “The Conservatives will oppose the plans for a new, undemocratic government quango to impose development on local communities. I fear that Gordon Brown, the arch-centraliser, is consigning local democracy to the scrapheap.”

Although Ms Barker has suggested that the current presumption in favour of building first in town centres should remain, her proposals will encourage building on outskirts. Property experts said that retailers would be given freer rein to develop out-of-town hypermarkets and warehouse-style stores if her recommendations are accepted., 06.12.2006

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