“Communities face a postcode lottery over how much of their countryside is blighted by new homes because some councils fail to use powers to protect it, research has found.
Some local authorities choose to protect their green belts but others accept much higher housing targets and allow developers to build on environmentally valuable land.
The different approaches mean some areas are being earmarked to have thousands more homes than necessary, according to research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Councils are planning more than 360,000 homes on England’s 14 green belts, which are rings of protected land designed to prevent urban sprawl.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced in 2012, requires all councils to determine their “objectively assessed need” (OAN) for housing, which is the number of new homes required to meet market demand and social need.
Councils do not have to accept the targets produced by the assessment if they have large amounts of green belt or other protected land, such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and nature sites.
Brighton and Hove council has set a target of 13,200 homes by 2030, less than half the 30,120 determined by its OAN. In its local plan it said it cut the number “to respect the historic, built and natural environment of the city”.
Watford, Hastings and Crawley have also set housing targets of only half their assessed need.
By contrast, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which includes the prime minister’s constituency, is planning to meet its full OAN of 14,200 homes by 2033 despite 83 per cent of the borough being green belt.
Simon Dudley, the leader of Windsor and Maidenhead council, is strongly supporting housebuilding in the borough, including 6,000 homes in the green belt. He has been accused of sacking a fellow Conservative councillor who questioned the plans.
Mr Dudley has previously said that his plans would only reduce his borough’s green-belt land by 1.7 per cent.
Christchurch and East Dorset is also planning to meet its full OAN of 8,490 houses over 15 years, despite 84 per cent of the area being green belt, an area of natural beauty or other protected land.
Paul Miner, the CPRE’s planning campaign manager, said that there was a postcode lottery on housing targets.
He said: “Councils have got scope to reduce their housing numbers but some are not doing so. Reasons include pressure from developers and also the political leadership of the council seeing an opportunity to make quick money from the new homes bonus.”
The government has promised to pay councils a new homes bonus, typically worth £9,000, for each home they build.
The planning framework states that there needs to be “exceptional circumstances” to amend green-belt boundaries. Elmbridge borough council, in Surrey, wrote to Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, asking him to define exceptional circumstances.
In his reply, seen by The Times, dated March 20, Mr Javid said that green-belt losses would have to be offset by improvements to remaining green-belt land, but added: “We would be disinclined to go even further into listing what might be considered an exceptional circumstance.”
Source: The Times (paywall)