Barker report indicates preference for ‘green wedges’ over green belts

December 5, 2006

Kate Barker’s Review of Land Use Planning has been published and is available for download from HM Treasury’s website.

The Evening Standard’s attention grabbing headline was ‘Green Belts Under Threat‘, suggesting that one of the report’s consequences will be increased development on London’s green belt. The report itself would not accept this analysis. stating on page 68 that the “key principles of green belt policy remain valid”. There will however, be implications for the green belt since the report clearly does not believe it should be regarded as a sacred cow but contingent on the benefits it brings to local inhabitants. Recommendation 9 of the report suggests that the “government should review the merits of different models of protecting open space including the ‘green wedge’ approach, which emphasises the provision of open space near to built up areas rather than on the edge of cities.

The question of whether the future of the green belt needs to be rethought in order to help reduce housing shortages in the south-east was raised by Dr Mark Clapson (author of Suburban Century) in a lecture to AAS students yesterday – his opinion was that it definitely should, on the basis that new development was increasingly ‘leapfrogging’ the green belt resulting in longer commuter journeys. This is a position that the Barker report would accept (p.16).

The morphological question raised by development on the urban-rural periphery was addressed (indirectly) in an article by H.W. Frey (2000) in Urban Design InternationalNot green belts but green wedges: the precarious relationship between city and country‘. More generally, it relates to the wider debate of how the relation between town and country, centre and periphery should be conceptualised in a highly urbanised (and urbanising) region. On one hand, we might conceive of a smooth but graduated ‘urban-rural continuum’, on the other a more variegated and complex patchwork of settlements combining rural and urban elements. A consideration of both of these approaches needs to be brought to the interpretation of the development patterns of London’s outer suburbs, their relation to each other, to the central place and to ‘top-down’ planning interventions such as the Green Belt.

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Postscript 14/12/6: An article in the ‘Hendon Times’ expresses concern that the Barker report will be detrimental to Barnet’s town centres and green spaces. Local councillors and other agencies view it as an “economist’s report” concerned with developer profits rather than the public good – although views are not unanimous. Of main concern to SSTC is the apparent relaxing of regulation of out-of-town shopping centres, despite the mood music the report makes about the importance of local centres.

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