Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A little point about housing and the 'green belt'

There you have it - a little piece of Bradford's 'green belt'. In this case it's Hewenden Reservoir looking from the Great Northern Trail (the former railway line) towards East Manywells. And like much of the South Pennines it is beautiful in an everyday kind of way. Not spectacular but, when the sun shines and makes those shadows, cryingly gorgeous - one of the things that make this small part of Yorkshire unique and wonderful.

So when the debate about housing arises, it is this sort of landscape, this kind of place that we must protect from development. Or should we?

Today, it being that time of year, I was at Denholme Clough delivering election leaflets. Now up at the Clough -  the bit of Bingley Rural Ward that bumps into Calderdale - there used to be three farms. That was three (or maybe four) dwellings. One was the halal abattoir at Sunside Farm, the other two typical, slightly tatty hill farms. There were perhaps ten electors here (and half of them were Mr Hussein's family).

Today all this is gone or going - the abattoir closed a while back and where there was once just one farm house, we now find a conversion creating five homes. All now occupied. Across the road another farm has been developed - a further five homes. It is, I don't doubt, only a matter of time before the third of the farms turns into a collection of barn conversions, cottages and houses - maybe five or six more places to live.

From three or four homes - all in the 'green belt' - will have been created 15 or 16 dwellings. And the old abattoir buildings and several barns remain untouched - perhaps for another development, another creation of new homes.

This picture is repeated again and again across the area - former farm buildings now redundant as farms consolidate and tenancies end are turned into homes. All within the 'green belt'. At Denholme House Farm and The Flappit there's been new build as well - a dozen or so nice new houses built were once there were tatty barns and corrugated steel cowsheds.

And none of these developments - in the 'green belt' - meet with objections except, on occasion, from planners upset that their precious "open-ness of the green belt" might be threatened by building on these farmyards and by converting these barns. There are maybe 50 such places in Bingley Rural - that's over 200 homes that can be developed without the need to take a single inch of green field.

Imagine the creative planner who said "maybe with a little new build at each of these places we could double that number" - we'd have approaching 500 new homes without any encroachment on those green fields. Spread that across the rural area of Bradford and we might get 3000 new homes - maybe even more. All without a threat to the green belt. All without petitions, protest groups and the endless paper war between the planners and the public - a war in which the planners get a phyrric victory. For sure they permissions granted and houses built but this is at the cost of public perception of planners - the firm view held 'out there' that planners do what developers want.

It's important to see this because Bradford Council want about 1500 homes built in Bingley Rural's villages over the next 15 years. There are already permissions for around 600 houses - with the 500 that developing existing rural sites brings we get most of the way towards the 'target'. There really isn't any need at all to 'release' tracts of land from the current 'green belt' for future development.

But all this requires planners to get out from their closed box, to stop believing the commercial propaganda of the house building companies and to think for themselves how we can meet Bradford's housing needs without any large land take from the 'green belt'.


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