Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Renegotiating the green belt

For many, or at least those residing within it, the Green Belt has become the byword for environmental protection against the encroachment of the undesirable and otherwise uncontrollable urban sprawl. These fearless and unpaid guardians of our rural environment are an unlikely crew – increasingly comprised of those fortunate to have inherited or earned the small fortune needed to acquire one of the limited number of des-res’s located in the green and leafy hamlets and suburbs scattered around the outskirts of our larger cities. They are steadfast in their defence against any and all proposals to build on this inviolable green belt. Of course this is not what the architects of Scotland’s green belt strategy had in mind – for them it was a city-region planning device (along with, say, new town development) for managing the relationships between settlements, including (though not exclusively) protecting the recreational value of land. But, unlike in England, the green belt in Scotland was not “…to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open.” Notwithstanding this, today in Scotland the green belt too has become sacrosanct – largely due to the unwillingness of local authorities to assert the legitimate expectations of many to decent and affordable housing over the self-interest of a rich, privileged and highly articulate minority.

But is this good enough? Why should this group impose a major negative tax on those for whom non-urban dwelling is simply not an option? And the green belt does constitute a regressive tax. Those who actually pay for the green belt are those living in the high density, low-quality housing estates that are a disgraceful feature of all Scotland’s major urban areas – areas denuded of public housing and alarmingly short of low-cost housing from the private sector. Edinburgh is ringed with such developments – places of planning blight and multiple deprivation and which are a tragic indictment of the Thatcher experiment. Public provision of housing is at an all time low, and while there are brown-field sites ripe for development in all British cities, and Edinburgh is no exception, the high costs of reclaiming this land requires that houses built there have to be sold for high prices. In Edinburgh the seafront developments in Leith and the Quatermile project in the city centre are cases in point.

Why not expand the city in a controlled and planned way? Why not absorb some of the green belt and put it to better use – use where the real rate of return to the city-region will be higher than under the current green belt prohibition? It isn’t only that such a strategy would enhance the quality of life of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals. Look also at the negative returns from much agricultural land. It produces food for which there is no demand at absurdly high prices, and contributes significantly to local river and loch pollution through intensive cropping practices. Of course we need constraints on urban sprawl. But these have to be sensible and sensitive to all, including those with a legitimate right to decent housing. Like it or not, the well-to-do middle classes simply must be forced to stop burdening the rest of us with the excessive costs arising from their own idyllic and entirely selfish existence. It is time to re-negotiate the green belt, and time for local authorities to use their planning laws responsibly.


Blogger BondWoman said...

Welcome, Roadrunner!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

Go get 'em RoadRunner!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006  
Anonymous Little Englander said...

Why not concrete over Arthur's seat? A prime piece of real estate that is clearly ripe for development. Of couse, I almost forgot about the meadows, how nice would a block of flats look there? If we are perfectly honest no one uses these green eyesores except for those pesky runners. And let's face it, runners are creating a huge burden on our society. Their selfish hobby is costing us decent English taxpayers millions. Orthopaedic costs on the NHS are spiralling out of control. So I put it to roadrunner that we fix the 'real' problems in society rather than building council estates in our beautiful countryside.

Sunday, January 22, 2006  

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