Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Tightening the Green Belt?

Posted by markpratt on May 1, 2008

Last night the first seminar in the 2008 Clarke Mulder Purdie Hothouse series, hosted by spiked, took place. The subject discussed was ‘Time to build on the Green Belt?’corn

The debate asked the question: should we unbuckle the green belt, view the countryside as a solution to the housing crisis and allow developers to build, or does Britain’s countryside need to be zealously protected from the danger of suburban sprawl. Video excerpts of the speakers can be viewed here.

Michael Owens, Head of Development Policy at London Development Agency raised the simple fact that there needs to be 209,000 new houses built annually within the next twenty years to cope with increases in population and changes in household structure. The only solution is to remove planning barriers, develop more urban conurbations, invest in strategic infrastructure and allow developers and architects the freedom to innovate.Only then can we see the innovation needed to affect the housing crisis.

Paul Miner of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) rejected the idea that Green Belt preservation policy was redundant and proclaimed it more relevant than ever in preventing sprawl. Whilst acknowledging the housing crisis, he claimed that over 600,000 homes currently lie empty and developments needed to be focused on brownfield land to avoid the prospect of the sprawling urban rural fringe and satellite towns.

Penny Lewis, editor of architecture journal Prospect, reinvigorated the debate by asserting the absolute necessity of building on the Green Belt, whilst suggesting treating developments on a case-by-case basis would ensure Great Britain’s natural beauty would be preserved. She regarded the fear of urban sprawl as a symptom of a broader issue – the cultural problem of self-hatred, the need to diagnose organic development as an expression of societal ignominy.

Academic, columnist and broadcaster Tristram Hunt offered an impassioned defence of the countryside, aligning the Green Belt with the BBC, NHS and rule of law as uniquely British. He derided the North American model of endless suburbs and suggested Northampton was emulating this model in, what he regarded as, the destruction of an entire civic city. He also suggested the sub-prime crisis would catalyse a backlash against the suburbs and strengthen the need for clearly demarcated cities and countryside.

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