As someone who was born in the area and grew up locally, I know the vital importance of protecting our green spaces. They don’t just give people the chance to enjoy the countryside and the open air; they are crucial to the character of our nation.
Our beautiful towns and villages only retain their distinct and individual character because green land is there to protect them from urban sprawl. Unlike many other countries, we genuinely cherish the countryside that surrounds our cities. Its destruction would deprive our children of the opportunities previous generations have had to be amongst nature.
It is vital that we build homes for our children and grandchildren, but this cannot be at the expense of what makes our area so special. It therefore worries me that over the years, we have allowed ourselves to excessively tilt the balance in favour of greenfield development, making it easier for people to build on the greenbelt instead of making the investment needed in brownfield sites.
We must make sure that development of brownfield sites is incentivised by planning policy, rather than hindered by it. That includes the regeneration of industrial land and the provision of the funds needed to clean them up. We also need bold policies to drive densification in our inner cities.
I was elected on a promise to keep our local green spaces safe, and I am as committed to that now as I was then. Since I left ministerial office, I have been making the case for all these measures and for a review of outdated local housing need projections from 2014. They are being imposed on our local authority as an effective housing target but in fact bear no relation to actual population movements since then.
If local communities oppose development and local authorities turn it down, that must be respected. Overzealous planning inspectors who constantly override local decisions must have their wings clipped. It is local people, not bureaucrats, that should take decisions on the preservation of our countryside.
There are better ways to provide the homes that we desperately need and I will continue to make the case for it.