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Green belts under threat

An incursion into green belt land south of Morpeth (and below) An incursion into green belt land south of Morpeth (and below) Colin Adsley

The Green belts around our towns and cities were created to prevent them constantly spreading into the countryside.

Apart from the ugliness of urban sprawl, this can create 'doughnut cities' (as in America), with prosperous suburbs and exurbs (stockbroker belts) on the outskirts. Meanwhile the inner city is left to the poor, the disabled and the criminal fringe - what the late Bishop David Sheppard called 'communities of the left behind'. Some American commentators have already warned that ultimately their inner cities might have to be fenced off, with signs warning, 'Danger - keep out'! 

We neither want nor need this to happen here, as our Green belts help to put a brake on such movements. They also prevent towns and cities merging into one another, and discourage building on agricultural land which we need for growing food close to our centres of population.

Yet today many Green belt areas are under an increased threat of incremental erosion, which CPRE has recognised by launching its new campaign to save Green belts. The major threat is housing. In Newcastle there are plans to build more than 6000 houses in Green belt areas on the western edge of the city. The Durham Green belt is also threatened with demands for housing and student accomodation. Morpeth's Green belt has seen a number of incursions, and there is a danger that villages such as Dinnington, the Callertons, Hazelrigg and Wideopen will be submerged by new housing that will link them with the Newcastle urban area and make them indistinguishable from it.

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We may have a housing crisis but research commissioned by CPRE has demonstrated that there is sufficient previously-developed or 'brownfield' land available to build between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 homes without invading the countryside. The problem is that developing such sites tends to be more expensive and so less profitable for large-scale building companies. They therefore press local authorities to release 'greenfield' sites on the edge of the countryside for development. Some cities, including Newcastle, are doing their best to invest significant sums of money ( from dwindling coffers) to regenerate 'brownfield' sites, but this is not stopping the pressure from building companies like Persimmon for edge-of-city opportunities.

Not only will this result in the destruction of our countryside. It will also force people to live further from their workplaces and thus increase demand for transport, especially by car, which in turn will lead to more clogged roads and commuter misery.

These trends in our patterns of living can and must be stopped. A firm adherence to the principle of Green belts is essential to our wellbeing as a nation and CPRE is calling on everyone to join their current initiative and 'Support Our Green Belt'.

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