Eric Pickles has taken new steps to enhance the protections in place against development on green belt land.
The communities secretary today strengthened the policy on planning for waste facilities such as recycling plants, stating that companies and councils looking to build these should first look for suitable sites and areas on brownfield land.
Mr Pickles said he was “crystal clear that the green belt must be protected from development” and that it needed to “continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl”.
“Today’s new rules strengthen these protections further and ensure that whether it’s new homes, business premises or anything else, developers first look for suitable sites on brownfield land,” he added.
Mr Pickles’ statement follows the release of new statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government showing that green belt land, which makes up 13 per cent of England’s land area, declined by 0.03 per cent in the past year.
Total green belt land fell by 540 ha to 1.6m ha in 2013/14. Only three local authorities – Rochford, South Gloucestershire and West Lancashire – reduced the size of their green belt land in the past year.
All three released green belt land for development. Rochford and West Lancashire released land to meet housing needs and development, while South Gloucestershire made land available for development west of the A4018.
West Lancashire allocated land for a total of 1,010 new homes, as well as land in Ormskirk to support the further development of Edgehill University through a new access road, university buildings and car parking.
However, these were described as the exception rather than the rule by Tim Taylor, head of planning at law firm Forsters, and contrasted with demand for new housing.
“Instead of celebrating the tightness of the green belt, we should be having a major debate about its actual role and purpose in 2014,” he said.
“Surely something is wrong with our planning system if we can celebrate 13 per cent of our country being unbuildable green belt, while at the same time cramming our population into just 9 per cent of our land area?”
David Churchill, director at consultancy Iceni Projects, said: “These latest figures are further evidence of the obsession with the arbitrary defence of the green belt, which continues to contribute to the housing crisis.
“A consistent and pragmatic approach from central and local government is required in order to properly address the issue and kick-start building for the future.”
The Lyons Review, published by the Labour Party today, stated that “evidence has also demonstrated that not all green belt land is of high environmental or amenity value”, suggesting planning regulations may need to be relaxed if growth in housebuilding is to continue.