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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Land Economy and the future of the green belt
Of course, today's big news in planning surrounded the Adam Smith Institute's new publication, Land Economy by Mischa Balen. It covers many things: but most radically, it calls for the total abolition of planning regulation and the exstension of the 'invisible hand' principle to how land is developed.

It also has really interesting things to say about the development of green belt areas. It calls for the 're-greening' of England with sterile agricultural land converted to new woodland habitat and housing.

Balen says "If some of these [areas] were converted to sympathetic development consisting of 90% woodland, including small lakes and rivers and 5% each for housing and supporting infrastructure, each farm whose use was changed in this way, would yield almost 200ha of new woodland, together with 140 average sized new homes."

He proposes that 3% of farmland is developed in this way over a ten year period, yielding about 950,000 new houses and almost 130,000 hectares of new woodland, roughly an 11% increase in the wooded cover of England and Wales.

"None of these new homes would be overlooked by existing houses. Rather they would be nestled in among new woodland. Current homeowners would not face a view altered by new buildings. On the contrary, they would see the ugly monoculture fields replaced by natural woods, carefully planted to provide a mixture of different types of trees and undergrowth.

"The fields so barren of insect, bird and animal life, would be replaced by woods rich in biodiversity and providing a habitat for birds and small mammals." What, of course, he hasn't touched on is my big idea about sustainable new development in the countryside along similar-ish lines but involving biomass production hitting the big time.

The Adam Smith Institute said this kind of sympathetic development is in tune with Conservative leader David Cameron's recent remarks foreshadowing a new approach to planning policy. Cameron has basically been calling for the release of much more greenbelt land for affordable housing, to the horror of the CPRE and others who would be otherwise natural Tory allies. I'm going to be really interested to see how this debate pans out over the next three years. I don't want to get into bed with the Tories about anything but it will be interesting to see how Labour manage to respond to this major new challenge to the planning system.

And this comes on the same day as the quango Commission for Rural Communities recommended higher council tax on second homes to fund affordable rural housing. Same issue, two vastly different approaches. The battle lines are being drawn.


Blogger Meng said...

I am totally confused:

If Balen is championing the 'invisible hand', why would he then propose 're-greening' Britain to such a drastic extent? Forgive me, but I don't think the market mechanise in the UK would prompt the farmers to give up their profitable farmlands for planting trees and building a few houses in between. We probabably need a dictatorship to push such a bill through Parliament. And who exactly does Mr Balan think will want to live in these houses? Upper-middle and upper classes in the UK already live in nice big houses with copius surrounds of land. What we need these days are affordable housing. Unless he is suggesting that the first-time buyers should move into affordable treehouses in the middle of nowhere?

Also, how is this "sympathetic development" in tune with the Tories? Surely if Mr Cameron wants to open up greenbelt land for housing development, he is not very "sympathetic" to the environment at all.

12:34 pm  
Blogger HL said...

Meng, the problem is that farmland is no longer profitable. Farmers find it extremely hard to break even and with the changes happening to the subsidy system, their future is looking even more uncertain. Therefore most farmers would love to be able to get planning permission to build on their land - they would make a lot of money.

There is a massive shortage of affordable housing in the countryside for middle- and lower-income families who already live there which is what he thinks this will solve.

1:24 pm  

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