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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Six Forum: Town Planning
Ron Tate from the Royal Town Planning Institute answered your questions in a LIVE Forum for the BBC's Six O'clock news, presented by Manisha Tank.
Objecting to new building projects will become more difficult under new government proposals, campaigners warn.
Under current planning law, residents can raise objections to any new buildings and the county council must consider those objections.
But this can lead to long delays, so the government wants MPs to make decisions on big projects such as roads, airports and nuclear power stations.
Residents will only be able to raise objections after a project has been approved.
Activists say that this means local people will be forced to accept decisions made in London, and could lead to building on greenbelt land.
Should the greenbelt land be used for new houses? What do you think of the government's plans?
Here to address your questions and comments on this particular area is Ron Tate who Chair of the Policy Committee at the Royal Town Planning Institute. Mr Tate, thanks for being with us. We've had a good response for this subject because obviously many people have their local area close to their hearts.
We're going to start with an e-mail we received from Graham Burton in Kent. He writes, the Government complains that people aren't voting and we should get more involved in politics, especially at a local level. But at the same time, it seems to be seeking to remove people's voices from the planning process. Whose side are they on - ours or big business?
I think some of this is related to the idea that, in capital in particular, we may see big projects go ahead without anyone really being consulted in the interests of the wider economy.
When plans are being made, the local planning authority has a duty to consult the public: initially before they make the plan, once they've got a draft and once they've got a second draft. Some would argue that's too many bites at the same cherry. I think when business complains, it's often the big projects that perhaps go to public inquiries and these inquiries seem to take for ever. They're conducted in probably a far too legalistic way and it's dragged out. The main people who seem to benefit are the lawyers who are lined up on both sides and sometimes the public feel intimidated by having to speak in that sort of forum. What we're trying to do is to get to a situation where it is much easier for the public to make comment.
What the Government are attempting to do is to take a step in that direction and I think that will help the planning process. So each and every inquiry won't be faced with having to challenge government policy. If we're building a by-pass, we'll know whether national government supports the building of by-passes on particular routes. Then the local inquiry will be all about the local issues - about how that relates to the environment within which it's proposed and whether it's acceptable or not.
There are a great number of people who are holding onto the idea of keeping the Green Belt. You are talking to us from Southampton - it's certainly a big issue around there?
But let's not run away with the idea that this means the entire countryside is going to be swallowed up under concrete. I think one or two campaigning organisations have been spinning the real situation for far too long - talking about concreting over the countryside - I see Max Hastings recently appointed as Chair of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, was making statements when he took over his chairmanship.
If we actually took all of the existing urban area that we have in the British Isles, we demolished it, and rebuilt it on the countryside, we'd still have something like 60% left and lots of brown field land. So the amount of additional land for housing of 40% - that won't make lots and lots of countryside go under development - and why should development be a bad word? This development is actually needed - it's meant to house people properly.
We've another e-mail from Paul Chambers, in London saying: We have a finite supply of land and once it's built on there is no going back. Shouldn't our planning laws always err on the safe side and certainly not play into the hands of those who stand to gain the most - the developers?
We do, in planning, err on the side of caution. We do check these proposals. We do check that they're using the land in a resourceful way. There's been government guidance to actually make better use of any of the land that goes forward for development by increasing the densities that we build at so that we don't waste the land.
In London, there is a Green Belt around London but there isn't a Green Belt around every town and city in the country. They're only required in special places. Most towns and cities have green fields at the edge of them. So the idea that we're running away with all of the Green Belt land by developing is also a false assumption. Our institute has recently done some work on Green Belt policy. We've got something close to the size of Wales allocated to the Green Belt and if we built all of the housing that is required to be built on green fields, on actually Green Belt land, we'd develop only about 5% of it and that is at a density below that which the Government says we should be building at. So let's get the thing in perspective.
We're not talking about releasing all of the Green Belt land - we're advocating that Green Belt policy should stay. All we're saying is that there needs to a fresh look at the guidance that goes with it and we shouldn't be quite as inflexible as we have been in the past.
We've got areas of countryside that are treated worse off than the countryside itself. We're busy regenerating our rural economy, we need to do the same within Green Belt areas and we can't with the current guidance.
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