Housing and the Green Belt
05/11/1999 St Albans & Harpenden Observer
When MPs give their maiden speech they are expected to describe the most important aspects of their constituency. So 16 years ago in my maiden speech I said that what united the built up areas in my constituency was a desire to remain separated by the Green Belt.
In all the years since then we have not lost a single acre of Green Belt for house building. Yet now all the green fields of Hertfordshire – even the Green belt ? face a double threat. The first is the result of the plan to build up to 10,000 houses on green belt land west of Stevenage. This was proposed by the Lib Lab coalition then controlling Herts County Council and endorsed by John Prescott. This scheme is not merely a threat to that part of Hertfordshire; it will undermine the Green Belt throughout the County and indeed throughout the country. This is because the planning system works on the basis of precedent. Now the government has for the first time permitted a huge development on Green Belt land it will be difficult to stop similar developments elsewhere.
The second threat was published the few weeks ago. It was the report by Professor Crowe suggesting that cover of 1 million extra houses should be built in the south east of England outside London by 2016. This is 400,000 more than the already excessive figure proposed by the South Eastern region planning committee. For Hertfordshire it would mean building an extra 4400 houses a year – 88,000 over the period.
That is why I joined nearly 70 other Conservative and Lib Dem MPs in writing to John Prescott urging him to reject this report. I also continue to harry John Prescott with questions. Last week I asked him to restrict house building on Green Belt land. In the light of his approval of the plan to build 10,000 houses his reply that there is “already as strict presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt ? this includes most types of house building? was hypocritical.
I accept that as time goes by we will need to build more houses. But not on this scale. It is true that as people become more prosperous they want more space in their homes. Also young people leave home earlier, people are living longer and, sadly, families split up. All of that means we will need more houses for the same number of people.
Moreover, we are immensely privileged to live in this beautiful part of England. We have lovely countryside, historic towns, and excellent communications. As a result more people wish to come and live here too. Those of us who are ourselves incomers can scarcely say that only those born in Hertfordshire should be allowed to live here.
But building on the scale proposed by this government report would be devastating. It is equivalent to twelve cities the size of Southampton in the South East. Existing built-up areas would finally merge with each other. Everybody‘s quality of life would be diminished. What is more, the evidence for this huge forecast increase in demand is pretty shaky. And the scope for building houses on brown land in London, the East Thames basin and other built up areas is greater than this report imagines.
That is why I shall continue to campaign to protect the green belt, to restrict building on other green land and concentrate new building on former industrial sites.