The Green Belt has been with us for more than 60 years. Its evolution can be traced back to 1935 when the Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed its establishment around London to prevent our capital simply growing outwards. The Town & Country Planning Act of 1947 allowed local councils to include Green Belt proposals in their development plans and, in 1955, the Minister of Housing – Duncan Sandys – encouraged councils to protect land around urban centres by formally designating clearly defined Green Belts.
In Oxfordshire, there is a single area of Green Belt encircling the City of Oxford. I fear a lot of people believe Green Belt to be much more widespread than it actually is and I have heard residents of North Oxfordshire villages convinced that the green fields on the edges of their villages are Green Belt. They are not and the recent tendency for urbanising estates to be built around the edges of many North Oxfordshire villages demonstrates the vulnerability of our green fields to be built over. In addition to the designation of Green Belt land, there is a second designation of Area of High Landscape Value which offers some protection but not as much as Green Belt. The Oxfordshire map shows the Oxford Green Belt in the centre of the county and areas of High Landscape Value in the west and south of the county.
Preservation of the Green Belt has been a fundamental of Conservative Party policy since its inception and largely remains so today. However, like many old established ideas, I am finding it hard to continue universal support for the Green Belt given the damage it is inflicting on fine old villages like Adderbury, Bloxham and Bodicote.
It is the intense pressure caused by the success of Oxford’s economy – both public, private and academic – that has led to enormous pressure for housing growth that cannot be delivered within the corset of the Oxford Green Belt. It is the imperative to accommodate Oxford’s housing needs that is putting huge pressure on Cherwell District Council to plan for more and more houses and this, in turn, is leading to the proliferation of inappropriate, urban-style housing estates on the edges of our villages not to mention increasing congestion on our roads, schools at capacity and a health service that is tottering.
I have therefore reached the conclusion that the Oxford Green Belt needs to be reviewed. They did this very successfully in Cambridgeshire some 20 years ago, taking out some bits of poor quality and inserting compensating green wedges elsewhere. I think there is room for relaxation to the south at Grenoble Road and to the north at Water Eaton and Kidlington. Both are near enough to the city centre for easy commuting, mainly by bus and both would benefit from economic growth. I would not like to see Grenoble Road become another Blackbird Leys with a large number of economic dependents and I am afraid Oxford City Council is only too capable of creating just such a ghettoised estate so that would be my sole reservation about this Green Belt relaxation. To the north of Oxford at Begbroke, we have a small regional airport which should be better used and we have the new Chiltern line from Oxford via Water Eaton to Marylebone that beats the Great Western Railway offer hands down. There is also the Begbroke Science Park with wonderful job and research opportunities.
It is time the pressure was taken off Cherwell’s green fields and the only way I can see of doing this is by reviewing Oxford’s Green Belt.