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Defending the Green Belt: warts and all or not at all

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Lord Rooker is probably feeling rather sheepish about his bold assertion that 'most Green Belt land is rubbish'.

But, while hardly the most eloquent of verdicts, Rooker's comment has drawn attention to common misconceptions about planning policy. Given that Green Belt is concerned with zoning and containment, rather than qualitative judgements, there is, in theory at least, no need for its advocates to feel threatened by the simple truth that much of our agricultural land is in a parlous state.While nobody would actively disagree with this assertion, the fact that Rooker's disparaging comments have been interpreted as an attack on Green Belt policy suggests an implicit acceptance that the commitment to protection is in some way based on acceptance of quality - a dangerous premise in that it leads to the inevitable conclusion that it is necessary to argue for the quality of the Green Belt in order to justify its preservation.

The fact that much of our Green Belt is contaminated, mismanaged, underused or plain ugly calls for creative and effective management, not wholesale redevelopment or removal of its protected status. The acknowledgement that effective custodianship may call for a degree of development does not pave the way for an unfettered assault on the Green Belt. Similarly, the argument outlined in this week's AJenda (pages 20-21), that many brownfield sites are rich in wildlife and fauna and a valuable community resource, does not imply that such sites should be uniformly preserved or exempted from development, but rather that any intervention should be based on an understanding of the unique history and intrinsic qualities of any given site.

Placing undue emphasis on the greenfield-brownfield dichotomy encourages an over-simplistic attitude to planning. Failure to acknowledge the inherent problems with much of our rural land gives Rooker, and his rather puerile comments, the status of the small boy in The Emperor's New Clothes. It remains to be seen whether or not Rooker is paving the way for an assault on Green Belt policy. But, in the meantime, his opponents have nothing to gain by pretending that everything is rosy in the English countryside.

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