Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Thursday, 10 February 2011

The wild card that may scupper building on green belt

Yesterday I voted with other councillors on the Planning Committee for the public to be consulted on the options for future housing and commercial development in the borough.

If you believed the headlines in some of our local papers, you'd be convinced that decisions had already been made to allow thousands of houses to be built on green belt. This is far from the truth, yet officers are advising us that we might have to allow some green belt development to meet Sefton's 'housing needs'.

The last Government imposed a house building target on the Council of 500 units a year. The Coalition have decided to scrap the Regional Spatial Strategy, and instead have said that councils should assess their own needs. Sefton commissioned an independent study - and it resulted in a figure of 480.

So, as there are no government targets - we can choose to ignore it, then? Not according to planning officers. To avoid challenges by developers, we need to assess how many new houses we need, and where they can go. Without encroaching on green belt, we have a supply of land that will cover us for just under nine years. So what happens after that?

The officers view is that it is better to earmark specific green belt sites for possible future development than let developers have a free for all. Officers argue that if we don't pick 'preffered sites' then developers will pick what suits them - and if we say no - they will challenge us in the courts.

Ironically, the population of Sefton - and indeed Liverpool - is shrinking year on year. So why do we need any new housing at all? The reason, apparently, is that more people are living on their own, and the average family unit is now down to two.

I see the logic in what they're suggesting, but once you move the goal posts to include green belt, it's like a nod and a wink to landowners and property developers. I've certainly not made my mind up yet - and residents will have a chance to have their say before there is a final decision in the Autumn.

There is one factor that the planning officers have not addressed - a wild card that may scupper building on green belt.

Food shortages.

Due to adverse weather conditions there has been a global reduction of cereal crops in the past year. The price of grain has almost doubled, and we've all noticed it in the supermarkets. Russia has put a ban on exporting its grain, and China is suffering a devastating drought. Despite the recent floods, Australia has had a bumper crop - but China needs to import vast quantities to feed its burgeoning population - creating a world shortage and driving up the price of grain even more.

Much of the green belt in Sefton is grade one agricultural land. At the moment we import 60% of what we eat. This will be unsustainable and unaffordable in the near future. There is going to be a driving force over the next few years to grow more of our own. 

Its not fields full of houses we will need, but fields full of wheat, barley, carrots and potatoes.

1 comment:

  1. Peter,

    A very good summary , and explained very well the problems facing us ALL , its good that the public are to be consulted on what are very important issues that will effect Sefton for many years to come .