Online Map To Save Natural Land From City sprawl
A NEW land database has been launched to help councils prevent precious natural land from being swallowed up by towns and cities.
The online map shows exactly how much has been built on so far and how much can be saved for future generations.
The project – which took over 30 years to complete – is expected to be most useful in Britain’s most treasured places, where the risk of urban sprawl is under greatest pressure from the housing crisis.
Countryside counties like Cornwall, Devon and Kent are particularly vulnerable to greenfield landgrabs as the population increases.
Mary May, chairwoman of Cornwall Council, said:
Protecting the countryside depends on how strong the council’s plan is, in the face of challenges from developers. It seems inevitable that some greenfield land will go. But local people need to have their say.
The European Commission initiated the project, the Co-ordination of Information on the Environment (Corine), in 1985, to help local people see how developments will affect their countryside.
The environmental project divides the whole of the UK into four broad categories: Farmland, Natural, Built On and Green Urban.
The database is compiled from detailed local maps and satellite images, and the information collected is now available to everyone.
In England, 72.9% of land use is classified as ‘Farmland’.
But this categorisation cannot protect distinctive farmland from coming under threat from property developers.
Greenfield land, which Corine would class as ‘Natural’ or ‘Farmland’, is unspoilt, undeveloped countryside.
Local councils are duty-bound to protect these unique landscapes for posterity, and to preserve the surrounding environments.
As such they must prioritise new developments on ‘Built on’, or pre-allocated ‘Brownfield’ sites – land that has already been developed.
This is to ensure that the 14.5% ‘Natural’ land left in England remains protected, and that farmland does not get swallowed up.
Nowhere in the UK is the battle to save greenfield land more acute than in Cornwall.
And since the county’s only University, Falmouth University, voted to raise a cap on student numbers from 5,000 to 7,500, Falmouth has become a hotbed of planning applications.
Residents and green campaigners have warned that a plan to build student flats on 55-acres of countryside on the outskirts of town will ruin the environment.
They are concerned that the proposed 2000-bed building will lead to the destruction of wildlife and increased pollution.
The controversial application is called the Penvose Student Village, slated for construction at Treluswell, a greenfield site of unspoilt farmland on the fringes of Penryn.
Researchers at The Campaign To Protect Rural England claim that there’s no need to eat in to the unspoilt countryside – when there are ‘perfectly good’ alternatives available in disused industrial areas.
Stephanie Kelly, Vice Chair of the Cornish branch of the Campain to Protect Rural England, said:
“People in Falmouth have legitimate concerns about the impact of accommodating more students in the town.
“But we have to think about the long-term impact of developing on green-field sites when it’s simply not needed.
”Developers have the opportunity to be both sustainable and creative when using brownfield sites.”
Brownfield land is space that has previously been built on, such as old derelict factories or offices - not unspoilt countryside.
Emma Williams, 59, from Ponsanooth, said: “This development is too big for the area and would have a serious impact on the town of Penryn and its environs”.
She notes too that the site is at risk of flooding, a concern echoed by local David Ackleroyd. Mr Ackleroyd, a retired Parish Counsillor who lives close to Penvose farm, said:
“Developments on this site have previously been declined due to the grave risk of flooding. The drainage simply can’t cope.
“The area is beautiful open land with views out onto the bay. To lose it would be a tragedy.
In Falmouth, the pressure to build new homes follows the Council’s decision in March to raise the cap on student numbers from 5,000 to 7,500.
Locals have raised concerns that the influx will drive up rent and increase congestion in areas already popular with students.
As a result, the location for an appropriate site for development has been hotly contested.
A source at Cornwall Council says that since the cap was raised Falmouth has been inundated with planning applications, some of which have been refused and will go to appeal in the coming weeks.
The environmental debate in Penryn is also being closely monitored at county and national level.
The issue is likely to become a touchstone case in a wider discussion that is erupting all over the country.
The Campaign To Protect Rural England says greenfield eradication is not just about Falmouth but the whole of Cornwall, and the UK.
A former CPRE president, Andrew Motion, warns:
“Precisely at the moment when we should be defending the countryside, and making it more accessible because it gives us all what we need more freely than anything else under the sun – we are at grave risk of losing it.
Stephanie Kelly suggests that Cornwall is in particular danger of “sleepwalking” into the loss of its beautiful countryside if “short-sighted” planning applications are approved on green-field sites.
“The voices of the development lobby are too loud”, she said. “They drown out the wishes of local people and the efforts of the Council to protect the countryside”.
The CPRE say that even though Cornwall Council have put measures in place to preserve nature, the initiatives are under attack from developers that hope to swallow up precious greenfield areas.
In their report ‘Needless Demand’, published this month, the group warn that “precious countryside is lost to unnecessary demand-led development”, which does not address local need, or environmental concerns.
The report comes as Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced earlier this month that local Councils must grant yet more planning permission for new developments in a bid to build “the right homes in the right places”.
This has raised Cornwall’s 20-year housing target to 57,780.
To meet these targets sustainably, the Council is required to make a presumption in favour of brownfield land.
Allocating and prioritising brownfield land is vital to allow the Council to safeguard the future of Cornwall’s countryside and develop quickly and sustainably.
Research has shown that developments on brownfield sites happen on average 6 months faster than greenfield sites, making them more responsive to need.
There are plenty of allocated brownfield sites available close to the university, including Packsaddle and Kernick Industrial Estate.
But the Penvose Student Village is slated for development on 55 acres of rich farm-land and green fields.
Ocean Reach (Penryn) Ltd, the developers behind the Student Village, conducted initial consultations with locals from Mabe, Penryn and Ponsanooth in 2016, and found public opinion to be “strongly opposed” to the scheme, with 50% of those surveyed rating their support for the development at 1/5.
Regardless of local opposition, Ocean Reach (Penryn) Ltd, maintain that they are the “only real viable option” for student accommodation.
A spokesperson for the developers insists that there are no suitable brownfield sites available. This is despite the many sites allocated in the Local Plan.
Local Councillor Mary May, who helped develop the register of brownfield sites, is frustrated that planning applications are still being put forward on greenfield sites.
“You either go with the brownfield sites that the Council have identified, or why do we bother?” she said.
“They are available in the Local Plan, and act as a safety net to help us preserve the countryside. To use greenfield land is completely unnecessary”.
And students, who choose Cornwall’s only university for its calming countryside, are worried too. Emma Eberhardt, 19, said:
“The magic of this place is that it’s special, the countryside is beautiful. It’s good for your mental health. Who knows what will happen if they build on it. It could just keep spreading out. The place would lose its charm”.
Previous university developments on brownfield sites in Falmouth have set a precedent for sustainable building in line with local need.
The Sidings, a student facility built on the old Railway Yard at Penryn Station, is a case in point. The 233-bed development was completed in 2013 on brownfield land.
Universities in urban settings don’t have the option to build on open country, which has already been swallowed up. Providing accommodation in cities where green space is a protected luxury mean that regeneration of brownfield sites is par for the course.
Ying Hua, an academic who works on sustainable expansion of Universities, says:
“The expansion of campuses through greenfield development and soaring new constructions runs the risk of invading agricultural land and consuming huge quantities of energy and resources.
This is to be avoided at all costs. Redevelopment of the Council’s allocated and under-utilised brownfield sites will provide a boost to the local economy. It will also ease the impact of extra students moving into town, thus addressing the concerns of Falmouth locals, and the needs of students.
Building on the Penvose Farm site sets a dangerous precedent for rampant, un-checked urban sprawl in that area, and the environment and natural habitats surrounding Penryn.
The Penvose Student Village is a development that addresses demand, not need.
At a time when pressure on the Council and local planners is greater than ever to meet housing need and approve sustainable developments, building on allocated brownfield sites is imperative if Cornwall’s countryside is to be preserved.