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Green belt cannot constrain Cameron

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In yesterday’s edition of the Times, regular columnist Tim Montgomerie sets out why the Tories won a surprise (to most) majority in Parliament last week. It was not, Tim argues, because of the hoody-hugging Cameron of old. It was core Conservative values what won it. And he is right. We haven’t seen a more ‘typical Labour’ versus ‘typical Conservative’ campaign for a long time.

It would be easy to see this election as a victory for the right wing backbenchers in the Conservative ranks. Certainly if you read the manifesto the Conservatives produced back in April. You have to remember though that at the time the Tories were expecting to ‘deal away’ some of the more right wing elements of their manifesto in a coalition deal.

Now however, David Cameron is going to have to take on the right flank of his party on a number of occasions during his tenure as PM. One such example of this is no more obvious than over the green belt.

Tim Montgomerie rightly states that: “A near-theological protection of green belt land explains why millions of young people can’t afford to buy a home. Planning restrictions remain the most impoverishing form of red tape in British life.”

So much of the campaign noise regarding housing revolved around measures to help younger or poorer people onto the property ladder. We heard about ISA’s to help fund deposits, the extension of Help to Buy and the resurrection of the Right to Buy scheme. What no one said is that by building more houses where there is demand we will enable more people to buy those houses.

Towns and villages within the green belt are rightly proud of their location and the natural beauty around them. Developers must respond to this appropriately and protect the character of green belt settlements through smart, sensitive design. Without new development some of the areas within the green belt run the risk of becoming glorified retirement villages and then, mausoleums.

It is not difficult to make this an economic argument. For it is true that the strength of the economy will be the centrepiece of this Government as it was the last.

Rural pubs are closing. Shops in smaller towns are failing. Close-knit village communities are struggling as populations age and investment dries up. Getting more people – new people – into these areas increases investment, increases customer numbers, and increases community participation. Development on the green belt is absolutely vital to ensure the very survival of these protected areas.

Design is key. Sensitivity is vital. Consultation and engagement is a must.

David Cameron will need to stand up to the vested interests in his party – months ago Tim Montgomerie likened the importance of the NIMBY vote to Conservatives to the importance of the Union vote to Labour. Again Tim is spot on. It will take some courage but it is a necessary step that must be taken and taken soon. It’s all very well protecting the green belt for future generations to enjoy but soon enough the green belt will be a series of ghost towns unless we allow the future generations to actually live there.

Come on Dave. We’re waiting.

Ben Sherreard
Executive Director and Head of Cratus Planning

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