HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc160-2W
Sir Hugh Rossi

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his Department's response to the recommendations of the Environment Committee on the Government's green belt and land for housing draft circulars contained in the Committee's recent report (HC 275).

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

[pursuant to his reply, 3 July 1984, c. 112–13]: The following is the text of the Department's response to those recommendations. A further memorandum responding to the Committee's other recommendations will follow shortly. Copies of the two circulars referred to in the response, which are being published today, will be placed in the Library.


Green Belt and Land for Housing 1. The Government has the following observations to make on the First Report from the Environment Committee into Green Belt and Land for Housing. These observations respond to the Select Committee's specific recommendations about the Green Belt and Land for Housing Circulars which have been amended in the light of the Committee's recommendations and of comments received in response to consultation on the revised drafts that were issued in February. The final versions of the two circulars are being published on 4 July. the Green Belt Circular (DOE 14/84) is at Annex A and the Land for Housing Circular (DOE 15/84) is at Annex B. The Government will respond to the Committee's other recommendations in due course. 2. The Government welcomes the Committee's Report. In particular they welcome the appreciation that the Committee has shown of the complementary nature of the two circulars. The Report says, "To defend Green Belts there has to be sufficient land for housing available elsewhere. To promote urban housing there have to be defensible Green Belts". The Government agree and it believes that the circulars will give a clear lead to authorities to secure these objectives.

The Green Belt Circular—DOE Circular 14/84

Recommendation 1 'We consider Green Belts have a broad and positive planning role: that of open spaces whose presumption against development can better shape urban areas, particularly on a regional scale. We recommend that the circulars should state this unequivocally'. (Para. 12) 4. The Government accepts the recommendation and paragraph 1of the circular recognises the broad and positive planning role of Green Belts.

Recommendation 2 'We recommend that a fourth objective—to assist urban regeneration—be put into the draft circular'. (Para. 14) 5. The Government recognises the importance of Green Belt policy in assisting the regeneration of urban areas, and paragraphs 1and 5 of the circular refer to this.

Recommendation 3 'We recommend that the circular uses the phrase "as far as can be seen ahead" to define the longevity of Green Belts'. (Para. 17) 6. The Government accepts the Committee's recommendation which is reflected in paragraph 3 of the circular.

Recommendation 4 'We recommend that in drawing boundaries no account should be taken of the condition of land and that this should be specified in the circular'. (Para 22).

Recommendation 5 'We recommend that the Government make it clear that, once fixed, boundaries will not be moved to release Green Belt land which is or has become derelict'. (Para 22).

Recommendation 13 `We recommend that development should only be allowed in the most exceptional circumstances, and never when land has been deliberately allowed to become derelict'. (Para 35). 7. The Government recognises that land that is suffering from disuse or neglect may form an important part of the Green Belt and, if so, needs to be protected and maintained. Paragraph 6 of the circular refers to this aspect but also says that, in considering whether to include such areas within the Green Belt, where detailed boundaries have not yet been established, authorities should also consider carefully whether the land could be better reserved for future development and thus ease the pressure on other land that should have the long-term protection of the Green Belt. The paragraph has, however, been amended to take account of the Committee's recommendation 13.

Recommendation 6 'We recommend that the need to give Green Belt status to pockets of land between urban areas within conurbations be explicitly set out in the circular'. (Para 24). One of the objectives of Green Belt established in 1955 was to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another. Approved structure plans include some areas of Green Belt established for this purpose within urban areas, as described in the Committee's Report. Such areas are sometimes referred to as "Green Wedges". The Government accepts the importance of protecting such areas and paragraph 6 of the circular refers to this aspect.

Recommendation 7 'We recommend that the draft circular should give greater emphasis to countryside enhancement, and that it should become a factor within Green Belt development control'. (Para 27).

Recommendation 8 `We recommend that the Government builds the concept of countryside management into the draft circular, and consider whether more can be done to promote such a service in Green Belt areas'. (Para 28). 9. The Government recognises the recreational value of the Green Belt. Paragraph 6 of the circular refers to this aspect and has been amended to draw attention to the scope for local authorities to work together with land owners and voluntary groups to enhance the countryside.

The Land for Housing Circular—DOE Circular 15/84

Recommendation 15 'The best means of protecting valuable amenity land is to ensure an acceptable choice is available elsewhere. We recommend that the draft circular should emphasise this'. (Para 52). 10. The Government agrees with this and paragraph 3 of the circular emphasises this point.

Recommendation 16 'We recommend that Government should monitor the operation of land availability studies and specify clearly in the circular how frequently they should be conducted'. (Para 56). 11. The Government agrees with the Committee about the importance of these studies and the need for them to be up-to-date. This is made clear in paragraph 16 of the circular. It is also important that the studies should be monitored and this work is carried out by the Department of the Environment as described in the Memorandum submitted to the Committee. 12. Paragraphs 68 to 71of the Committee's Report deal with phasing policies. The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of the view expressed by the Secretary of State in his evidence, and paragraph 9 of the circular has been amended to reinforce this point.