The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition’s agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.
For a moment I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to put that to the vote; I would have been on his side.
The Planning Inspectorate looked at Rochdale metropolitan borough council’s core strategy, and as the hon. Gentleman will know, consultation ends next Monday. It was extended to allow consideration of the proposed release of 55 hectares of green-belt land on the South Heywood development, but that has now been excluded from the core strategy. The inspector looked at the proposed removal of that area from the green belt, tested the council and found that plans for making such an exception were not sufficiently robust. If hon. Members have any doubts about the importance of the green belt, they should see the hon. Gentleman, who can testify to the policy’s stringent nature.
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What I have said is absolutely compatible with what the Chancellor said; there is no difference between my views and those of my right hon. Friend. We have said from the Dispatch Box that a proportion of the green belt is former brownfield land—a disused quarry, for example, or a scrap yard—and the national planning policy framework envisaged careful consideration of those boundaries. Does it not make sense to get those kinds of sites back under development, and protect and enhance the green belt?
I understand that the Government want to legislate further to streamline planning as part of their economic growth strategy. Elmbridge in my constituency is 57% green-belt land. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the proposed legislation will not contain any new proposals that might weaken protection of green-belt land, and, critically, that planning inspectors will have no right to trump local democratic decision making?
It is as the right hon. Gentleman says.
Of course we are not looking to affect my hon. Friend’s constituency. The green belt is immensely important. It is a green lung and prevents major conurbations from bumping into one another.
My hon. Friend must have come across some grumpy planning inspectors. By and large, they are there to introduce the national planning policy framework, and to ensure that decisions are made in accordance with it. Local democratically elected representatives have a duty to look to the well-being of their constituents not only now, but in future. There must always be a balance, but the green belt remains very safe.
North Leeds, too, has some of the most beautiful green belt, which is hugely important to the whole city. I welcome the Secretary of State’s clear statement today, but does he acknowledge that developers continue to target attractive greenfield sites while brownfield sites exist that are desperate for development, and that that needs to be addressed?
My hon. Friend will recall the national planning policy framework, which makes it clear that previously developed areas should be given development priority.