Dorset CPRE says a relatively modest increase in investment in our green belts would see significant benefit for nearly half the population.
The countryside charity has just published a report calling on Government to commit to providing sufficient funds to deliver on its commitment, in the Levelling Up Bill, to ‘improved green belts around towns and cities’. The report is based on research analysing the geographical spread of agri-environment schemes and considers the financial implications of the Environmental Land Management schemes that are to be introduced.
Agri-environment schemes to plant trees, improve soil health, boost biodiversity and restore historic parks and buildings are not sufficiently benefiting the countryside that is most accessible to the general public, especially the 30 million people who live in urban centres. Only 19 per cent of green belt land is covered by agri-environment schemes, yet 28 per cent of land is covered by such schemes overall, indicating significant under-investment where it is most needed.
CPRE finds that the increase in visitors to green belt land seen during the pandemic is being maintained, with greater recognition of the benefits to health and wellbeing provided by access to nature. But this valuable green belt land is under increasing threat of development and in need of greater protection.
Locally, a big problem is the questionable use of the undefined term ‘exceptional circumstances’ to justify removal of land from green belts for development. Such development is too often large executive houses that do nothing to address the lack of affordable housing for Dorset residents, and has seen 70 per cent of the green belt around Wimborne removed for development. In recent years this power has also been used to remove green belt protection from the countryside next door to many in BCP and East Dorset, particularly in the Stour Valley.
Peter Bowyer, chairman of Dorset CPRE, said: “This report is both timely and important. I understand that Dorset Council are considering the case for relaxing the green belt designations on ground of exceptional circumstances. A commitment from Government to increase funding for green belt protection and enhancement would send a powerful message that it is serious in its aim to develop ‘brownfield first’. It would also demonstrate its recognition of the enormous value to health and wellbeing of the countryside around our towns and cities.”
The introduction of Environmental Land Management schemes will replace previous agricultural and land management subsidies and will be the mechanism by which Government funds its commitment to safeguard and improve green belt land.
The CPRE is urging Dorset residents to write to their MPs, ward councillors, parish councillors and the press drawing attention to the serious threat to the green belts highlighted in the CPRE report and urging them to put pressure on the Government to honour its commitments with the necessary funding.
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