How should we protect the English green belt as it celebrates its 50th anniversary?
The Tories have accused the government of turning the green belt land into an "elastic band".
Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said that although the green belt had been increased in areas where there was little development pressure, it had been removed in areas of high housing demand.
However, Phil Woolas, a minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, claimed that 70% of new developments were on previously developed brownfield sites.
A poll carried out by Mori for the Campaign to Protect Rural England has suggested that 84% of people oppose building on undeveloped land.
What is the best way to protect England's green belt? Do you live in a green belt area? Is it possible to reconcile the need for development with conservation?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
You could build four story flats with shops, cafes etc below them. That is what they do here in Spain saving a lot of land space and the people are happy and have a good comunity spirit. Here there is a lot of land but people like the social set up of being together. It is worth a try if the flats are good quality with a landscaped garden to share and much better than a tiny house with a silly wooden fence that blows down every year!
Bob Grant, Spain
Living in the single most densely populated state in the US, New Jersey, I have still managed to find a home in a rural area and for the first time in my life, I am enjoying the stress free, noise free, pollution free environment that so many people who are tired of the cities and suburbs crave. The single-minded preservation of all undeveloped land as a sacrosanct tract to be off limits forever to anyone looking for a home is to condemn them to overcrowded cities where people live on top of each other and crime is high. In the post-industrial world of the 21st century it is no longer necessary for people to commute or even visit inner cities any longer. A policy of rational development on a regional planning basis makes far more sense and will take pressure off the cities and those who remain in them.
The Alps are beautiful and have houses dotted everywhere, so does France, so does Italy, so does everywhere - what is this phobia some people have with signs of habitation? What is this masochism that squeezes people into row upon row of Europe's smallest, ugliest and most expensive houses? The green belt doesn't need protecting, it needs opening up so that some of us can breathe!
Douglas, Watford, UK
John Prescott stipulated that only much needed affordable homes for first time buyers would be built on green belt land? Then please tell me why are so many 4 bedroom plus country homes going up everywhere? Why aren't the affordable homes being built on this land instead?
Veronica Prince, Essex, England
We live in a village that will become part of Harlow if "Maplecroft" the new mega estate planned between Harlow and Bishops Stortford is built. I have mixed feelings about it - I will lose my views, the roads will be much busier and my quality of life will diminish while they are building, BUT - my children will have somewhere to live, the schools will have more children so hopefully will be safe from the threat of closure and some of the infrastructure that we miss out on may well be more available. Our children as they grow up and leave home have to have somewhere to live and unless we expect them to travel for hours to get to work (not exactly green) or to work from home they need to be close to their work - and that means we need more homes in the south-east.
EJ Clark, Hunsdon, Herts
There is enough derelict land available just waiting for redevelopment. Just travel down the A13 towards London. Our greenbelt is a precious gift for future generations.
J.A. Myers, Chelmsford, UK
We could always paint the houses green.
John Martin, Galway, Ireland
Ministers and others involved in planning and development have to stop redesignating green belt areas. Just because there is now "more" of it doesn't mean that it is in the right places. The current ploy of removing green belt status to allow expansion defeats its very purpose. The value of green belt is in maintaining space between areas of urbanisation. If the green belt is lost around Stevenage then I will be one of the first to move out of the area.
Barry J, Stevenage
I'm afraid that there is a lot of hypocrisy about. Organisations like the CPRE (whose survey this is) represent many people who live in a nice place, like it and think that no-one else should live there. Those who need a new house but can't afford one are bottom of their list of concerns. The green belt should be a moveable boundary.
Rod Bull, Birmingham, UK
Perhaps we should concentrate on saving our nature parks first, as I see they are now allowed to build on Pembrokeshire national park! A holiday village?? Like they need some more 'part time' employment? They need jobs that will be there all year round not just for the summer!
Julie, Cardiff, Wales
We desperately need truly affordable housing in rural areas for families already living there. All that is needed is a couple of modest houses, sensibly sited, in each parish and the problem would be well on the way to being solved - without building huge new towns and the problems they bring. Second homes in green areas should be actively discouraged. Otherwise put farming and wildlife first. Tourism/"leisure" uses of the countryside are never as much of a good thing as they are portrayed
Edwood Walker, Malvern, UK
In Amsterdam, they have a law that bans people from leaving houses unoccupied, in order to maximise the use of the city space. Let's do the same first. Whoever drives 120 miles to work because of house prices needs to work somewhere else and stop pretending that this is somehow 100% impossible. Then you can talk about the environment.
Ben, London, England, UK
The easiest way to stop new builds is to stop the VAT relief on new builds, and swap it over to restoration instead! That would encourage builders to restore older buildings in towns, rather than building new ones!
The only way is for a National Council to be formed to help fight housing development. Housing developers are able to ride roughshod over any opposition because they have unlimited funds and private individuals do not. If 84% of people oppose building on undeveloped land, then how come 99% of cases are won by developers?
Why don't we turn the tide the other way? We could try and make the city greener with more trees on avenues, window boxes, roof-top gardens and creeping plants. I love living in London, but why everything has to be concrete, glass or steel I don't know.
Graham Pilmoor, Watford
We need to preserve as much land as possible, it's imperative to our future. The best way to protect it is not to allow property developers to build on it. We should look more into areas/properties that can be demolished and replaced with new builds or recycle buildings for alternative living spaces.
Maria Snell, Maidenhead, England
This is only a local issue and should not be allowed to become a national political issue. The process for objecting to local authority development plans is well established and actually fair. These should be used in a local context whenever there is a threat to the rural environment.
Allen, Great Dunmow, Essex
I live on a former brownfield site near the centre of Newcastle. It offered me the chance to live very close to a vibrant city centre and made good use of land that was previously going to waste. There are many more opportunities for brownfield development and these should always be looked at before we even think of touching the green belt.
Adam, Felling, UK
The majority of the pressure to build on green-belt land is in the south east of England, where due to international immigration into the capital, there is in effect a planned extension of London. More stringent planning controls and a reduction in immigration are the answers.
Perhaps we ought to do more to address the north/south divide and relieve the pressure on the south east. Give incentives to firms to move north, and develop some of the housing standing derelict and brownfield sites in the once industrial northern cities. This would provide a better distribution of wealth and employment across the country and reduce the need to build so many houses in the south.
I lived in Britain for nine months and was quite impressed with the green belt idea. I wish my government had enacted such a scheme to protect the countryside where I live. Unfortunately, because nothing has been done to halt 'progress', and because real estate is now so high, most farmers have already sold their land to developers. There seems to be no concept of preserving beauty, only a quick means of obtaining money. Continue the fight to save the green belt in Britain!
B Haley, South Hadley, USA
The green belt may be designated as such, but if it is farmland, it can often be lacking in biodiversity. How about sensitive developments with a minimum percentage of 'green areas'? Some small gardens can be more biodiverse than huge fields.
David Orr, Aberdeen, UJ
The greenbelt should not be built upon. Some parts of Hertfordshire have already become an extension of London - the rest of the county needs to be protected.
The Mori poll question was rather naive - of course we would all like the countryside to remain as it is. But if a member of your family couldn't afford a starter home you might see things differently. And unless the population of the UK was to stabilise at a zero-growth level, there will always be a need for more homes.
David, Chichester, UK
Living near London where property prices are sky high, I find it strange to see unused wasteland and rows of horrible characterless 50s/60s/70s houses that should be knocked down and replaced with some "decent" modern blocks of flats. Forget about building on our green spaces when there are so many run-down places left to exploit.
Ryan Harkin, Surbiton, UK
I live in the green belt and an area designated as of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It still does not stop the planners from considering using this land for mineral extraction i.e. quarrying. It is appalling that there is one law for one, and one for another.
Simon Evans, Reigate, Surrey
What was the point of establishing green belt areas in the first place, if we are going to build on them as soon as the cities get crowded? The government needs to do something about the 700,000 empty homes and the countless rarely-lived-in second homes across England. Simply destroying our natural environment by building new housing is not the answer.
Tracy, London, UK
A sense of perspective needs to be included when discussing development on green belt land. We do need some development in some areas but it needs to be done sensibly. Not more swathes of suburban three bedroom semi-detached houses that are excessive in a contemporary society where there are large numbers of single people or couples with no intention of having children. Any new green belt development should also have self-sustaining housing.
Mark Andrews, Brighton, England
Green belts are notoriously susceptible to development in all countries that use them in planning. The only way to limit encroachment upon green belts is to enforce rigid protections upon them at all levels of government.
Tim W, Sevenoaks, Kent
You can't simply say that development should take place on 'waste' land in town centres and that this will solve all our problems. The supply of brownfield land is decreasing and much of this land is contaminated and expensive to remediate, assemble and prepare for construction, making the end product more expensive. I don't particularly agree with building in the greenbelt, but perhaps judicious use around key conurbations is the only answer as the number of households in the country increases.
D Bolton, Manchester
The best way to prevent houses being built on greenbelt land? Build wind farms; nobody wants to live next to those.
Jim, Farnborough, Hampshire
One way is to plant trees and put a protection order on them. You will find it is difficult for developers to make sneaky inroads when they have to cut trees down first
Malcolm Williams, Nailsworth, UK
Councils need additional central government support to effectively monitor and restrict development in the green belt. Furthermore, Permitted Development rights should be changed for dwellings in the green belt as they currently allow home owners to cover up to 50% of their plot with structures.
There is plenty of wasted land in cities that can be developed and existing buildings that could be redeveloped for optimum use, so let's make use of that instead.
Chris, Dartford, Kent
A field lost to development is lost forever. All green belt land should be protected from buildings even where there is 'housing pressure'. Proper, comprehensive national land use planning is the only way to prevent urban sprawl taking over huge tracts of open countryside.
Maurice Vella, Truro, Cornwall
Most 'green belt' land is actually some form of managed land and as such not some form of idyllic nature reserve. A more considered review of our land and its use might be more appropriate, in conjunction with the scrapping of farming subsidies, rather than focusing on one narrow issue.
Mark, Stonehouse, Glos
We need to tighten the rules on Green Belt to protect the land and then work to lessen the pressures that are causing the problems in the first place. A few of these might include preventing runaway house prices, controlling immigration, correcting the North-South divide and putting a brake on ridiculous airport expansions. Just commonsense things that the Government and local authorities of this country should be doing already.
Dan R, St Albans
Well, now that most people buy food from abroad, there's no real need for the land to be retained for agriculture. Why not build on it and create jobs and new communities? Most people who live in towns and cities have unrealistic images of 'the countryside' anyway its an industrial, man-made landscape different in not so many ways from towns themselves.
Vote for the Green Party? It's just a thought.
Gerry Noble, Salisbury, UK
All office development should be banned in the south east so that firms will be forced to expand and create jobs in the areas where they are needed most.
Simon, Fleet Hampshire
Do away with VAT charged on brown field sites and introduce VAT on green field sites, and ban or introduce a local council veto on construction on greenbelt land builders would soon start developing brown field sites. I know of a number of sites in my village where the district council refused planning permission but were overruled by central government.
Graham, Sevenoaks England
Why not turn all green belt land control over to the National Trust ?
Trevor Neale, Scunthorpe, England
Green belts exist in order to prevent urban sprawl, and since their inception have been able to develop into a highly diverse and continuous habitat in many areas. Simple "relocation" (impossible in reality) of green belt will require the whole ecological process to start again, and any fragmentation of existing continuous green belt could have a devastating effect on delicate and critical natural ecologies. Furthermore, intensive conventionally farmed land may be "green" but it is also far less valuable than many of the so-called "brown field" sites. This whole subject needs looking at again before snap decisions based on poor knowledge are made.
Keith Farnish, Rayleigh, UK
Why should a handful of people have a "lovely view" while the rest of us are crammed in like sardines not able to see any further than the neighbours that back on to us. Build outwards, reduce density of people and therefore traffic. There'll be enough green land left after we've taken an extra mile around the cities, but think of the extra quality of life of the millions that'll be able to breathe and afford property again. Think of those that can move closer to the cities due to extra, pleasant, housing and won't have to drive a 120 mile round trip that they currently endure because of house prices. It's a positive thing for us and the environment.
There are huge pressures on green belts in the south east, yet in the northern counties vast areas of housing is left to die. The government should look at redeveloping these brown field sites first, and offering grants etc to attract businesses to these areas. Transport and communication links have improved so much over the past decade that it does not make economical sense to further stretch a south east transport system that is already struggling to cope.
Put an electric fence around it?
Peter Mitchell, Brighton
We need to make sure that the definition of brownfield land is better defined. The old site of the radio masts near Rugby is to be built on as the masts are removed, as it is classed as brownfield - despite the fact that there are cows grazing on it.
Dunstan Vavasour, Rugby, GB
Give local people more say in what they want, also I see a lot of empty offices around where I live, why not convert them to flats?
Bumble, Dartford, UK
The most obvious measure would be to legislate in such a way that any construction project proposed on green belt land requires the specific consent of Parliament. Thus any project of vital national importance could still be carried out, albeit with some difficulty, but no other construction could go ahead under any circumstances. The government's boast that 70% of development occurs on brownfield sites is better phrased as '30% of developments occur on the green belt', which is simply not sustainable. If there is pressure for space in the cities, build up, not out. (Tower blocks are only inhospitable when designed by cretinous '60s architects obsessed with prefabrication).
I I'Anson, Bath, England
Can't believe that this has to be questioned - perhaps a cap should be put on the amount of people that this island can support before it becomes completely concrete. So much for this green and pleasant land.
Jackie G, Exeter
Why not make it easier for construction companies to use 'brown' sites. Where I live there are many brown sites that could be built on but it is more cost effective for construction companies to use 'green' sites. When I was a child, the other side of town was countryside and we used to go for picnics. Now it is houses and flats. There are many industrial estates being built on 'green' land but then left empty whilst there are many empty buildings on 'brown' sites that are available but not used so end up vandalised and as eyesores. Why doesn't the government get up off its butt and stop planning applications on 'green' sites. Then there would be no excuse for empty neglected eyesore buildings and green space for everyone to enjoy.
J Hodgson, Swindon, UK
There are more than enough houses in this country for the people that need them. The trick is to stop the north-south migration - Instead of developing the south, plough the money into the north, and give businesses up there a fighting chance of retaining their staff at a decent wage level.
Sally, Sussex, England
Everyday I travel to work on the bus from North London to the City. The number of boarded-up and vacant buildings that I pass on the way is unbelievable. Many are ex-Local Authority buildings left to fall into ruin. Why not re-build these areas into truly affordable housing for young first-time buyers instead of destroying our countryside?
The best way to protect green belt land is to simply not allow further building on it. Renovate older, run down areas, wasteland, abandoned warehouses, etc. Pull them down and build there, rather than on the green belt. I like the countryside, and I am fearful that in the future the entire country will be one huge conurbation, a mega-city. Keep the green belt!
Jenny, Hull, UK
Instead of endlessly sprawling out over the greenbelt, why not build more efficiently in towns - upwards! No need for grim concrete 60s skyscrapers either, just 4-5 storey apartments. Look at towns and cities on the Continent for ideas (e.g. Leipzig, Germany). Higher living density makes services much cheaper to provide (public transport, deliveries, recycling, schools, hospitals, etc etc). And for people who want gardens, leave areas in the town unbuilt for allotments.
Dave Burbridge, Derby, UK
The green belt concept is an important one, but the needs of the modern population are also important. We need to provide an adequate level of accommodation within a reasonable proximity of our major cities whist ensuring that we limit the damage to our countryside. Green belts must remain, as long as they can be flexible and move with the changing needs of our population.
Adam, Gateshead, UK
I live close to a business park in Watford. Several of the office blocks have been empty as long as I've been here (2 years) and there are plans to build even more. It seems a shocking waste that this land isn't used for affordable housing.
Sarah, Watford, UK
The green belt should have rigid boundaries laid down and under no circumstances should these boundaries be encroached upon. Given half a chance vested interests and politician will try and get away with what they can because they can.
Why do we need to build on green belt land? Why don't they just use up the houses that are already there? We have seen several plans submitted over the years and monstrous housing estates being built on what was open green land or school playing fields. The excuses given are the need for cheap housing or the shortage of properties in the area. However, there are several hundred houses in the surrounding areas which are available but people are unwilling to pay to get the necessary repairs done so they lay empty for years. Maybe more grants should be made available to homeowners so they can renovate older properties and therefore the need to use green belt areas for housing would be minimal if at all.
Are we really going to pretend that there will be no building on green belt land? There is an ever increasing demand for housing and commercial property, unless this demand diminishes there will be a need for building. Forcing development further out into the country areas brings with it its own problems, traffic levels, demand on local services, dormitory towns and the destruction of village life. One thing is certain, change is here to stay, it's no good taking a blinkered view and ignoring this, we cannot stand still shrouded in the midst of time!
Terry, Epsom, Surrey, England
We bought our house specifically because it had been built on a brownfield site. Of course, when we were buying the builders used the fields behind the house as a selling point, not telling us that they were actively fighting against local residents so they can build on the green belt land too. The only people not opposing them are the owners of the field who will obviously make money from selling it to the builder but still the local council considers their application. Perhaps people should be given more power to be involved in decisions about their local environment?
Iain, Leeds, UK
While it is understandable that there is a need for more housing it appears that the government has taken an unimaginative option by plastering the already overpopulated south east with huge new schemes. They may not have considered that other areas of the UK are in dire need of some economic stimulation, the 'need' in the SE is partly generated by people moving 'south' for work. If these areas had more employment opportunities then there would be less reason to pile into the south east. I wonder when Mr Prescott will say 'that's enough' and stop building. It can only be presumed when there is no space left upon which to build? Bye bye green belt.
Mark Williams, Chelmsford, England
Do we want to protect it? As a person whose life is in London, but will, in all likelihood, never be able to own a home here despite having a reasonable job, I personally think the green belt could do with a great deal of reduction. It's ridiculous that we all live cheek by jowl cramped into a tiny section of this island - and then emerge into large green areas which hardly seems under threat. Look at an aerial photograph of the UK - it's green - not urban grey.
Never mind building on the green belt, where's the water going to come from? Why not just encourage businesses in other regions and build some more new towns elsewhere in the UK?
Andrew Oakley, Gloucestershire, UK
Instead of high cost luxury apartments being built in towns, affordable housing should be constructed - leaving the green belt free for all to enjoy.
Kim, West Sussex
Look at spare/unused land in towns and cities first. Manchester is making great in-roads in city centre living, as are most cities. Why not towns as well? We have a finite amount of land, especially green spaces - don't sacrifice them when there are alternatives available to be explored first!
Chris Jones, Manchester, UK
People always talk about urban sprawl, but you don't have to look hard to see that Britain is still a very green country.
Tom, Brentwood, Essex
More expensive unoccupied city-centre office blocks should be converted into flats and apartments. I live in a converted primary school which would otherwise have been pulled down and I cite as a good example of re-use of an old building as well as providing a comfortable form of city-centre living. I would rather live here than in some huge sprawling estate built on more countryside.
Simon Oxlade, Swindon, UK
No matter which study you look at, England is desperately short of housing and that shortage will only increase, mainly driven by the change in the way people live. Even if every available piece of open space in London was built on, including parks, there would still be a need for more land.
Mark Blackman, London
We should discourage the expansion of low-density suburbs and provide more higher-density housing in towns and cities, and more mixed land-use just like mainland Europe. To persuade people to live in flats, we must force developers to improve standards of soundproofing. Next stop all further out-of-town shops, business parks and leisure complexes and scrap the different VAT treatment of new buildings v refurbished old buildings. Of course to make all this work we need vastly improved public transport, better facilities for cycling and walking and more expensive motoring.
Geoff Kerr, Todmorden, UK
What about thinking outside the box a bit? We could make the waste ground in the city centres into attractive parks where the land would add a lot of enjoyment to a lot of lives. Then we could build on an equivalent amount of green belt land. This might get better value in terms of enjoyment per hectare in this crowded island
The only way to protect the green belt is to not build on it. There is no need to reconcile the need for development with conservation because there are sufficient brownfield sites. If brownfield sites were used there would be more development of areas outside of the South East, thus relaxing house price pressure and causing prices to be more equal around the UK.
Helen, Croydon, UK
Stop building so many new houses! There are plenty of boarded up and derelict/empty houses and brown-field sites that could be regenerated, instead of creating ugly new housing estates in the middle of nowhere and expecting the local infrastructure to cope.
I live in what is described as 'one of the most deprived towns in England' and we have so many large beautiful houses that are crying out to be restored. These places and others like them in other towns/cities should be restored and turned into homes first before anyone is allowed to build on green sites. If not, England will no longer be a green and pleasant land.
I utterly oppose building on undeveloped land. However, if yet more green belt land is to destroyed for the sake of housing, it should be mandatory that these houses be built using sustainable materials and should be powered by solar and wind where possible. "The expense!" I hear people cry... but have they considered the cost to the environment?
Stop councils and farmers selling land for a quick buck! and also getting rid of this so called affordable housing rule which means people can build ANYWHERE! Save this green and pleasant land!
We must question the unthinking assumption that the green belt is necessary for conservation. Green space is just as important in our cities as it is in the countryside. Us urban folk should be fighting for our own "inner green spaces", just as hard as rural people fight to preserve unused wasteland in the countryside. Nobody has the monopoly on the environment - it's high time we had a "Campaign to Protect Urban England"!
Brendan Fernandes, London, UK
There should be no building on green belt land. This should not be up for discussion.
People are just going to have to get used that we can't all live in a big house with a garden. This country is very heavily populated and will become an unpleasant never-ending suburban sprawl unless people start to accept that housing needs to be higher density in existing urban areas, not ever-expanding to cover the entire countryside with bland suburbia.
Matthew Scully, London, England
Prevent speculative building in the green belt. There are too many examples of factory units being built on green belt land. Not only do these lie empty for years at a time, but there is a surplus of derelict land within a matter of miles of these sites that should be used.
Richard, Staffordshire, UK
The simplest way to protect the Green Belt is to ensure Caroline Spelman and the Tory Party she represents never again hold office. It is on their watch that much of the green belt was concreted over to make way for motorways during the 1980s boom and for out-of-town retail parks in the early 90s recession. Labour have done a little better, but have failed to address the great waste of land in our towns and cities by empty buy-to-let properties, low-density suburban development and large amounts of car park provision. Addressing these three would release large amounts of land for high-density housing without touching the green belt.
Noam Bleicher, Oxford
There is a very simple way to protect it. Ban all new construction on the land (except for repairing buildings) and use the waste land found in many city centres.
Christian H, North Wales
The best way to protect the green belt is to sack John Prescott.
Dave, Newcastle, Staffs
I agree with Dave from Newcastle - sack John Prescott. It's not democratic when housing requirements are dictated by an unelected regional body seemingly answerable to no-one except house builders. In Cheltenham we have too many supermarkets yet they are still planning more on "brown" land that could be used for housing.
Bob, Cheltenham, Glos
I was about to suggest the sacking of John Prescott, but Dave from Newcastle has already done so. Is there a queue?
Ledger White, Rochester