The pandemic has shown how vital our green spaces are for the wellbeing of the nation, from sharing our national parks together to inviting loved ones over to our gardens. That is why it was a priority for me and my Department to reopen our parks at the start of the pandemic—something that has offered a lifeline to many people and families over the past year. As we build back better and greener in our recovery, we will enhance our environment and provide more green spaces through our forthcoming planning reforms. They will build on and embed our already extensive protections for the green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and our ancient woodlands.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to protecting our green spaces and the broader Government investment in our nature recovery programme. Will he consider looking at a new “wild belt” designation as part of the planning proposals to ensure that we protect those hard-won gains for generations to come?
I would like our planning reforms to create a legacy of enhancing our environment and leaving the natural world in a better state for future generations. We are continuing to consider how best to achieve that through the ongoing detailed design of these reforms, but I am interested in wild belts, as I know my hon. Friend is. We are already bringing forward a raft of changes to support nature’s recovery, including introducing mandatory net gain for biodiversity through the Environment Bill and requiring tree-lined streets in all new developments—something that we are increasingly seeing in new housing across the country.
In Greets Green and Lyng, communities have long been promised a facelift, with quality new housing developments by Sandwell Council, but very little has yet been delivered. Residents in Newhall Street are regularly blighted by crime and antisocial behaviour and have been calling out for help and investment for years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that while these areas go undeveloped, it makes no sense for green spaces in other parts of West Bromwich East, such as Peak House farm, to be at risk of development?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need local areas to make the most of existing developable land—repurpose it, revitalise unused sites and build the most beautiful homes our communities need. The west midlands, which she represents a part of, is one of the best examples of a place in the country that is meeting housing need and building homes, but is doing so with a very strong emphasis on brownfield sites. The Government are backing that with, for example, a £100 million land fund and £108 million that we provided through our brownfield fund.
There is clearly demand for more housing in the central Lincolnshire local plan area and across communities in my constituency of Lincoln, the east midlands and the country at large, but we are continually seeing local green belt being built on by large developers, and land banking is still rife on the edge of urban areas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must balance housing developments by big developers with the need to ensure that communities of all shapes and sizes still have the opportunity for smaller and individual housing within the curtilage of those settlements of the type and style that buyers wish to purchase and, crucially, live in?
My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. First, we have been clear that the manifesto commitment that the Government were elected upon was to protect and enhance the green belt, and that is exactly what we intend to do. Secondly, we want a planning system that is based on local plans, where local people and their communities democratically choose sites, and they will be, and should be, a mix of not only larger ones but smaller sites, particularly brownfield sites, which can be developed at pace by small and medium-sized developers. One of the litmus tests for the planning reforms that we intend to bring forward later in the year will be whether they shift the balance from the large developers who can navigate the current convoluted and complex system in favour of small and medium-sized builders, such as the local entrepreneurs that my hon. Friend represents in Lincoln, and ensure that they, too, can prosper and build more homes.