Speech at CPREís Horspath Rally on 19th April 2009

by Ian Scargill, Chairman of the Oxford Green Belt Network

 

I am one of about 150,000 people who live in Oxford but not in the Green Belt. So of what benefit is the Green Belt to me and my fellow citizens?

 

Looking at the City Councilís new development plan (Core Strategy) I find only one of 166 pages devoted to the Green Belt. But I did find this statement: "development is restricted by policy constraints such as the Green Belt which encircles and extends into the city, and administrative constraints arising from Oxfordís tightly drawn boundaries." So it appears that the City Council wants to relax the Green Belt and to take over parts of neighbouring authorities.

 

Housing and jobs seem to be the reasons for this expansionism. But in the 50 years that I have lived in Oxford there has always been a housing issue. It stems from the nature of the local housing market, including a huge student demand, and it has given us, successively, Blackbird Leys, Greater Leys, the prospect of development south of Grenoble Road and, in 20 yearsí time, Greater Horspath (?).

 

On jobs, new employment created in Oxford used to be shared with other parts of the County, but that policy seems to have been abandoned. Instead the demand for more jobs leads to a spiral of demand for houses, then more jobs, more houses, and so on without prospect of an end.

 

Is that why the City Council wants to expand its administrative boundaries? In 1981 the City published a map which, if the Council had been successful in its request to the Boundary Commission, would have seen an enormous expansion of Oxford to take in Kidlington, Kennington, and many other parts of its surrounding including large areas to the south and east of the City. Over the years it has succeeded in absorbing only a portion of this territory but the desire has not gone away and another attempt was made in 2008 in connection with development south of Grenoble Road.

 

In short, the Green Belt appears to be regarded as an obstacle to the Cityís ambitions and to those who seek to profit from developing it.

 

In the face of these threats to the Green Belt, what do I and my fellow citizens gain from retaining it in its present form? Well, Government guidance (PPG.2) states that a Green Belt has a positive role to play in "providing opportunities for access to open countryside for urban populations."

 

Here is the key to those benefits. Like a great many other Oxford people I can walk into the Green Belt countryside in a matter of minutes. I do so regularly and I see youngsters at play there, fishermen, dog walkers, ramblers, blackberry pickers etc. I see wild flowers and trees responding to the changing seasons, and I see birds, including recently my first red kite flying over the edge of Oxford.

 

I regard all this as essential to my quality of life. Someone described the Green Belt as "an area where the full therapy of natural things can fulfil its refreshing and soothing role." The Green Belt offers a fundamental gain. It provides contact with an environment that is not just the housing estate and the shopping parade. It is an environment of benefits - social, physical and mental. Cut people off from this world of nature by urban sprawl and you diminish them as human beings.

 

Where then do we look for protection of the Green Belt? To the local authorities, but arenít they seeking to review the boundaries of the Green Belt? To the Government, but isnít it constantly adding to those land uses which it regards as suitable for a Green Belt - wind turbines, waste disposal centres and so forth?

 

The Green Belt is not a thing, like a National Park which enjoys special protection. It is only a tool, a method of control, and it only works if that control is exercised consistently and with commitment. At present there are far too many loopholes in the way of exercising that control and the danger is that the Green Belt is simply regarded as a reserve of land to be drawn on periodically as perceived needs arise.

 

That is why we need CPRE, the Oxford Green Belt Network, and the Oxford Preservation Trust. Above all, ladies and gentlemen, we need you. If you value your Green Belt, it is what you say and do that might just make a difference.



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