The owners of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps Rugby Clubs want to leave Adams Park (their current ground) and build a new stadium development. Wycombe Air Park is their preferred site. This is Green Belt land next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wycombe District Council is proposing to support and part-fund the project through substantial ‘enabling development’ i.e. selling off land owned by WDC for housing development – possibly 2000 homes. The project is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.
Group Against The Stadium Proposals (GASP) was officially formed on Monday 15th November 2010 when concerned representatives of independent groups representing some 13,000 residents came together to unite against the stadium proposals by Wycombe District Council and private enterprise. Groups include parish councils, residents’ associations, sports clubs and conservation bodies from both the local and wider area.
Whilst each group has their own individual concerns, many are shared by all groups, including loss of countryside in the Green Belt, concerns about access to and from the stadium and housing development. To learn more about their campaign, log on to http://www.gasp-no.org
A Green Belt is an allotted space of land that is held in reserve for an area of public open space and for recreational purposes. Greenbelt land is normally undeveloped or sparsely populated land, which has has been set aside to enclose developments, prevent towns from merging and provide open space.
The beginning of the Green Belt was in 1935 and was established by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee. It was not until 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act allowed Green Belts to be included in their development plans and it was not until 1955 that the whole idea was beginning to be used throughout the UK.
There are a few set purposes for these greenbelt areas which include preventing large areas from getting larger and keeping them in one area, to keep neighboring towns from growing together, to protect the countryside from development, to preserve the character and history of smaller towns, and to help with the rebirth of derelict areas within the urban area.
13% of England is Green Belt, the largest being the London Green Belt, at about 486,000 hectares. The smallest Green Belt is the Burton-Swadlincote Green Belt at just 700 hectares. There are around 14 Green Belts throughout England.
Green Belts were necessary because London and other major cities kept on expanding, and there had to be intervention to stop the countryside being concreted over. It has been said many times that once an open space has been built, on it will almost certainly be lost forever – no-one is ever going to look at a housing estate and say “Let’s knock this down – we could grow barley here”.
There are five purposes for designating Green Belt land:
- Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
- Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
- Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
- Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
- Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land
There are also five threats to Green Belt land:
- Short term planning gain – over-riding the permanent nature of Green Belts by shifting the boundaries enabling towns to expand. The 2005 draft Milton Keynes and South Midlands Plan produced for the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) talks of shifting the Green Belt to enable existing towns to expand.
- Housing pressures. For example, in the South East of England (Kent, Surrey, Sussex etc) the government is asking for 500,000 more houses.
- London overspill. People who currently live and work in London and are finding it too expensive and too crowded to live in London which is reducing their quality of life. As a result, they are moving out of London to live in surrounding towns. This is increasing the pressures for more housing in the Home Counties
- It is easier and cheaper to build on green field sites because brown field sites can be expensive to decontaminate. Technically, developers have to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to build on Green Belt.
- Inappropriate development which reduces the openness of Green Belt land. For examples, click here for appeals against refusal of permission to develop on Green Belt land
Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 there has been a net decrease of 80 hectares when compared with the latest 2008/09 estimates. This is due to two authorities who adopted new plans which resulted in a real net decrease in the area of Green Belt. Since these statistics were first compiled in 1997, there has been an increase in the area of Green Belt, but this is because a huge chunk of the New Forest National Park was redesignated as Green Belt in 2005.
So what is a Brown Field site?
Brown Field land development is previously developed land that may or may not have been contaminated. Today, you will find literally thousands of Brown Field sites that were previously used for industrial use. Because of this, these sites potentially present dramatic risks to people’s health, along with the environment.
With the problem of these sites being so significant, the UK government has stepped in, initiating programs to help redevelop Brown Field sites, calling these cleaned up areas Green Field sites. The program defined by the government is to take up to 60% of Brown Field sites and use them for new housing developments. The goal is to eliminate stress on green belt areas of the country.
Land that has not had industrial activity on it does not usually have contamination issues and its use is dependent on the regional councils having the will to use it and the impetus to encourage and incentivise developers to move into these areas.
One of the problems with Brown Field land development is that the public are much better informed and understandably wary about the potential liabilities associated with building a new house on previously industrial land.
Brown Field land development could be successful if waste and chemical risk is removed, making the land stable. Although new processes are being reviewed, the current steps involve redevelopment through a planning process for both environmental and economic relief and growth. This must include stringent surveys to ascertain the history of the land, groundwater testing, subsurface soil testing, and so on.
Landfill sites are going to become a huge problem in the future because it is so hard to decontaminate the site to use the land for anything useful. Have a look at this previous post for more information.
Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are happy for our green spaces to be slowly but surely eroded. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. No going back. No reclaiming land for agriculture or farming, no knocking down of stadiums to build a nature reserve or a green space to stop us all going bonkers. And no more back-handers for corrupt planning officials. Now there’s a thought….