Greenbelt land across Scotland 'lost to weak planning law'
Scottish Government urged to protect 11 areas of greenbelt land across the country.
By Russell Findlay
Campaigners claim that greenbelt land across Scotland risks being lost due to weak planning rules.
John Mayhew - director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland - has urged ministers to pass a new law to protect the country's 11 greenbelt areas.
He believes councils should only be allowed to grant planning permission if no alternative brownfield sites are available.
That would mean that applications like EuroPark - a giant development lined up for land near the M8 - would be rejected and developers would need to find other sites.
Mr Mayhew wants First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's government to enshrine the condition in the Planning (Scotland) Bill going through the Scottish Parliament.
He told STV News: "The most important thing we need is stronger protection in the law and we do have an opportunity at the moment because there's a planning bill going through the Scottish Parliament and there are opposition MSPs who are trying to improve that planning bill.
"One of the things they're trying to do is to provide stronger protection for greenbelts and the way that would be done is by asking local authorities, telling local authorities, that they can only consider giving planning permission for greenbelt sites if there are no brownfield sites left.
"In other words, it's a brownfield sites first policy.
"We are still debating that in the parliament and we would like to see that introduced into the law but it's not there yet. We do have an opportunity just at the moment to make a real difference for these beautiful places."
What is greenbelt land?
Greenbelt is defined as "an area of land in which development is strictly controlled so as to manage the boundaries of a town or city over the long term".
It is up to local authorities to designate and manage greenbelt.
There are greenbelts in the following 11 areas: Aberdeen, Ayr and Prestwick, Clackmannanshire, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Falkirk and Grangemouth, Greater Glasgow, Helensburgh, Perth, St Andrews and Stirling.
But there is no central record kept of developments - which means that no-one know how much has been lost.
Mr Mayhew said: "Because they're split up between 11 different towns and cities, each of those will be looked after by a different local authority.
"They'll keep their own records. As far as we know, the Scottish Government aren't keeping a central record. We'd like to do that. That's an aspiration."
Some councils sanction greenbelt developments in order to meet housing demands.
Mr Mayhew added: "In some places they are being eroded by speculative housing developers against the wishes of local people.
"In other places it's actually the local authorities that are allocating green belt for housing.
"We wish they weren't doing that but they are doing it because they feel the pressure for housing is so great that as well as brownfield sites, meaning sites that have already been developed and could be used again, they also feel the need to allocate housing in the greenbelt.
"Those are the cases that are particularly worrying for ourselves as people who care about all of Scotland's landscapes."
What's being built on the greenbelt?
There are numerous greenbelt developments - some underway - across the country.
They include a new bridge over the River Dee in Aberdeen plus a university development in St Andrews.
Edinburgh has several, including one for 6200 homes in the 'Garden District' near Hermiston and another for 1300 homes at 'New Brunstane' near Musselburgh.
In Perth, there are plans for 9000 homes on five separate sites, some of which are under construction.
Mr Mayhew has visited the area beside the M8 in Lanarkshire which developers want to turn into a new community called EuroPark.
'It's the most remarkable place. I've been there and had a good walk around with the local campaigners and it's amazing how beautiful it still is'John Mayhew
He backs campaigners who want North Lanarkshire councillors to reject the plans.
He said: "It's the most remarkable place. I've been there and had a good walk around with the local campaigners and it's amazing how beautiful it still is.
"It's so peaceful and quiet, you simply would not believe you're in the central belt of Scotland and you're so close to the M8 and that's why we think it's particularly special and we should look after that place.
"Greenbelts are really important because they're the lungs of the countryside, they're the countryside around towns, they're the countryside next door for so many thousands of people, particularly around big cities and towns.
"They're great places to take your kids for a walk, to take your dog for a walk, to get fresh air and exercise and we all know how important that is for us.
"But they're particularly important because they're often close to places where loads of people live, but often they're people that don't have access to public transport or they don't have access to a car.
"We think that's really important that that's protected for people now and also for future generations of people in those areas."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Greenbelts can play an important role in managing future development by directing development to the right locations.
"Scottish planning policy already encourages sustainable patterns of development as appropriate to each area that can also support regeneration and access to open space.
"However, it is for Scotland's planning authorities to decide, when preparing their local development plans, whether to have a green belt in their area and to define boundaries and what sorts of development may be appropriate within any green belt.
"The Planning Bill will strengthen this process by bringing the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy within the statutory development plan.
"Work to review these will commence once the Bill has completed its passage through the Scottish Parliament."