The Adam Smith Institute has always challenged conventional political and economic thinking, and today they do it again by publishing a report which calls for greenbelt farmland to be developed through a mixture of housing, woodland and infrastructure initiatives. The report's author Mischa Balen asserts that much agricultural land, including green belt land, is not particularly green. He says: "Some of Britain’s farmland has more intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides than anywhere else in the world. Modern farming techniques turn huge swathes of land into monoculture wastelands ugly to look at, and providing no habitat for insect, bird or animal life. Coupled with this is the fact that our planning system precludes development, even sympathetic development, and creates a restriction in supply for housing which excludes many would-be first time buyers from the market. People live longer, and more choose to live singly; when immigration is added in, a constant increase in demand occurs, but without a corresponding increase in supply." The report calls for “the re-greening of England.”
Without having seen a full copy of the report yet (you can download a PDF HERE) there seems to be something to this. But it will no doubt cause a predictable NIBMY outcry. While I think the concept of a green belt is a very good one, it has become too set in concrete with little opportunity for flexibility. A piece of land which was designated green belt 30 years ago may well need to be rezoned, just as there may be new areas which currently are not green belt but ought to be. This is a major challenge for politicians to grasp - and as Sir Humphrey would say, they'll need to be "courageous"!