Green belt “critical to the health” of Barnet

Written by  Monday, 27 January 2014 12:59
The Green Belt The Green Belt
Barnet has probably more to thank the politicians and planners of the 1930s and 1940s for than any other town in north London. With protected Green Belt land on three sides, the High Barnet of today is blessed with some unrivalled countryside on our door-step.

Therefore in the light of two reviews into the future of London’s open spaces, the Barnet Society is determined to remain at the forefront of the campaign to preserve the Green Belt.

We trust our submission to the reviews being undertaken by the London Assembly and an All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Green Belt could not be any clearer:

“We believe the Green Belt to be critical to health and well-being, a defining part of the character of both Chipping Barnet and London, and likely to be even more appreciated as London grows.”

The Barnet Society was founded in 1945 specifically to campaign for the preservation of the Metropolitan Green Belt, established in the 1930s and greatly strengthened in 1947– and that responsibility is all the greater on the Society of today in view of the continuing pressure for new development in the green spaces around High Barnet and in the farmland between the town and the M25.

Read the full submission made on behalf of the Society by Robin Bishop, who leads our planning team and join the debate by adding your comments:

 

To the London Assembly

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the London Assembly’s review of protection of green and open spaces, as part of its review of the draft London Plan.

I am responding on behalf of the Barnet Society, a non-political organisation that campaigns for the preservation and improvement of the environment of Chipping Barnet and surrounding areas. It was founded in 1945 specifically to give a voice to local people who believed that the Green Belt needed defending, and has a membership of over 400.

Below are our replies to the London Assembly’s questions. For a fuller view of Green Belt issues, please refer to the London Green Belt Council, of which the Barnet Society is a subscribing supporter.

  • What is the value for London boroughs of having an open space strategy?

The Barnet Society believes the value of open space in cities is very high – provision of places to play, exercise and relax is a vital ingredient for physical and mental health.

Chipping Barnet has been shaped by drovers’ roads and greenways with their grazing strips, which for centuries brought livestock destined for London – and by its extensive fields, which fattened the herds and was the site of Barnet Market – the main marshalling point before their final journey to Smithfield.

Much of this green space survives, and together with ancient woodland such as Hadley Wood surrounds three sides of the town, to the health and enjoyment of its residents, visitors and all who pass through.

Without the formation of the Metropolitan Green Belt around London in the 1930s, rigorously policed, we are certain that these open spaces would have been filled in years ago and would be under continuing threat of development, given the economic buoyancy of London and the relentless demand for new housing.

Inclusion of an Open Space Strategy is necessary in all boroughs, whether they are in inner or outer London.  Existing green spaces need full protection, and policies to provide new, fully accessible open space should be included for all major developments.

  • Has London seen particular pressures on retaining its green and open spaces?  If so, where do these pressures come from and how successful have the boroughs been in resisting development of them?

Chipping Barnet and its environs have experienced constant pressure over the years, particularly for new houses or housing schemes, but also for commercial re-use of former farms and stables. A less obvious but growing pressure has been to intensify existing uses such as playing field and recreation facilities in ways that diminish natural – and sometimes ancient – greenery.

  • Could you provide figures that identify the net change in the amount of London’s green and open space over the last five years? Alternatively could you point to specific cases where open space has been lost or is under threat?

We are not in a position to provide figures, but the last few years have seen planning permission granted for a range of developments, such as conversion of historic meadow to school all-weather pitches, and of a stables to a horseball centre.

Although these spaces have remained open, their natural green character has been eroded or lost altogether.

A specific local case that offers both a threat and an opportunity is the potential redevelopment of Barnet Football Club, which has left its former stadium (bordering Metropolitan Open Land and Green Belt).

The redundant buildings have no architectural merit and their replacement by, for example, well designed housing (including a proportion of affordable and/or social housing) would be welcome – but not to the detriment of the adjoining green spaces.

  • Do you think the forthcoming review of the London Plan needs to strengthen any policy aspect that would help you and others, such as local authorities, to protect London’s green and open spaces more effectively?

The Society would welcome strengthening of the London Plan to protect green and open spaces to reinforce the policy and resolve of councils, particularly now that they are under great and increasing pressure to meet housing targets and to offset funding cuts.

For example, our own council, the London Borough of Barnet, has a policy, reiterated only last week by senior planners at a meeting of the Chipping Barnet Town Team, to protect the Green Belt.

In practice, however, the last few years have seen permission granted for a range of developments. Although these spaces have remained open, their natural green character has been eroded or lost altogether.

 

To the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Green Belt

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Green Belt’s review of Green Belt protection.

I am responding on behalf of the Barnet Society, a non-political organisation that campaigns for the preservation and improvement of the environment of Chipping Barnet and surrounding areas.

It was founded in 1945 specifically to give a voice to local people who believed that the Green Belt needed defending, and has a membership of over 400.

Below are our replies to those of the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s questions that we are in a position to answer. For a fuller view of Green Belt issues, please refer to the London Green Belt Council, of which the Barnet Society is a subscribing supporter.

Which local councils are taking their obligations on Green Belt preservation seriously and which local councils are placing Green Belt land under threat?

The Barnet Society can only comment on our own council, the London Borough of Barnet.  Its current policy, reiterated only last week by senior planners at a meeting of the Chipping Barnet Town Team, is to protect the Green Belt.

In practice, however, the last few years have seen permission granted for a range of developments, such as conversion of historic meadow to school all-weather playing field, and of a stables to a horseball centre.

Although these spaces have remained open, their natural green character has been eroded or lost altogether.

  • Should brownfield land in Green Belt areas have the same protection as greenfield land in Green Belt areas?

Our view is that brownfield land should continue to have the same protection.

Having said that, we know numerous local examples of buildings or land use on brownfield land that impair their adjoining green spaces.

If we could be convinced that national and local government were genuinely committed to enforcing the highest standards of design and sustainability and not allowing any significant new encroachment onto Green Belt, we might be willing to reconsider this stance.

  • How can we increase local community engagement in protecting the Green Belt?

We, too, would like to know the answer to this! Although we enjoy a healthy and active membership, it has been fairly stable over recent years, despite our varied programme of activities, publicity efforts and vigorous lobbying over particular planning cases.

We recently revamped our website, which has attracted compliments, generates numerous on-line comments on topical planning and environmental issues, and is evidently noticed by our local councillors and MP.

It is hoped that, as this becomes more widely known, it may attract more members and campaigners.

It would be helpful if central and local governments themselves placed more value on environmental issues – and if an up-to-date map of the Green Belt was easily available, not just to groups like ours but to the general public.

  • How do we balance the need to sustain the Green Belt with the need for sustainable communities?

In principle, we support the need for more sustainable communities. However we also believe the Green Belt to be critical to health and well-being, a defining part of the character of both Chipping Barnet and London, and likely to be even more appreciated as London grows.

  • What should the Green Belt look like for the 21st century?

Ideally, the 21st century Green Belt should remain very much the same as when it was first created.

In practice, we accept that changes have inevitably occurred, most notably in our area the disappearance of working farms and their replacement by garden centres, leisure facilities and the like. We also acknowledge that this process is likely to continue.

Our wish would therefore be for the continuing and rigorous protection of indigenous and historic natural environments, but – if development cannot be avoided – the enforcement of the highest design and sustainability standards.

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