Town Planning Review

Planning principles and particular places: planners’ and campaigners’ perspectives on motivations for popular support of the green belt

Town Planning Review (2022), 93, (3), 301–328.

Abstract

With many countries around the world facing deepening housing crises and searching for ways of increasing the public acceptability of new house building, academics, planners, and policy makers have generally focused on the material, economic motivations of campaigners and the public in opposing development. This article, which focuses on the green belt planning policy in England, but with wider relevance for house building internationally, argues that whilst considerations of material ‘property’ are sometimes a poignant motivation for campaigners, planners identified more normative concerns surrounding the ‘fear of change’ as equally important. Alongside campaigners themselves, planners stressed the importance of general planning ‘principles’, especially protection of the countryside and green belt, as well as local, ‘place’ concerns about development ‘changing the character’ of an area and its effects on local facilities/services. The article reflects on the need for planners and policy makers to pay more attention to principles and place attachment in policy formulation regarding house building, whilst more effective integration of different aspects of the planning system is needed to address campaigners’ more materialistic concerns about the effects of development on local services.

Published open access under a CC BY licence. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/

Planning principles and particular places: planners’ and campaigners’ perspectives on motivations for popular support of the green belt

Abstract

With many countries around the world facing deepening housing crises and searching for ways of increasing the public acceptability of new house building, academics, planners, and policy makers have generally focused on the material, economic motivations of campaigners and the public in opposing development. This article, which focuses on the green belt planning policy in England, but with wider relevance for house building internationally, argues that whilst considerations of material ‘property’ are sometimes a poignant motivation for campaigners, planners identified more normative concerns surrounding the ‘fear of change’ as equally important. Alongside campaigners themselves, planners stressed the importance of general planning ‘principles’, especially protection of the countryside and green belt, as well as local, ‘place’ concerns about development ‘changing the character’ of an area and its effects on local facilities/services. The article reflects on the need for planners and policy makers to pay more attention to principles and place attachment in policy formulation regarding house building, whilst more effective integration of different aspects of the planning system is needed to address campaigners’ more materialistic concerns about the effects of development on local services.

Published open access under a CC BY licence. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/

Introduction

There is a growing international interest and literature on the characteristics and motivations of people’s opposition to new house building, often derided under the pejorative term ‘NIMBYism’ (Nguyen et al., 2013, 107; Davison et al., 2016). A range of spatial contexts has been covered by this ‘NIMBY’ literature, from opposition specifically to housing, including affordable/social housing developments in the countryside (Sturzaker, 2010) and the densification of suburbs (Mace, 2018), through to other uses, such as asylum centres and gipsy/traveller sites (DeVerteuil, 2013). The strongest connection between house prices and community opposition has been made in the US with the ‘homevoter hypothesis’, associated with William Fischel’s (2001a; 2001b) work. However, arguably much of the NIMBY literature internationally and in the UK, whether from an economic (Cheshire et al., 2014), neo-Marxian (Short et al., 1987) or more sociological perspective (Rydin, 1985), still often implicitly assumes that people, especially campaigners, oppose development primarily for the material reason of desiring to protect the price of their home (labelled the ‘house price hypothesis’ or ‘property argument’ throughout this article).

With deepening housing crises in many countries, especially England, the search for policies which increase the public acceptability of new house building has become more important in neo-liberal governmentality terms (Inch, Dunning et al., 2020). This article focuses upon England’s probably most long-standing and popular planning policy, the green belt, which was codified in 1955 and aims to prevent urban ‘sprawl’ (Sturzaker and Mell, 2016). It has been widely accused by developers, think tanks and economists as being one of the main causes of England’s housing crisis through restricting the land supply for residential development where demand is the highest at the rural-urban fringe (Cheshire and Buyuklieva, 2019).1 The house price hypothesis is central to this line of analysis because it logically flows and is often implicitly assumed, that the green belt is particularly supported by homeowners primarily as protecting their (high) house prices (Cheshire et al., 2014). However, notwithstanding this argument being made by the financial journalist Martin Wolf (2015), the connection between the green belt and protection of house prices as a motivation has not been explicitly made by academics, probably due to the difficulties in establishing motivations, which can often be complicated, contradictory and diverse (Davison et al., 2016). Nonetheless, whilst the policy has similar objectives to other growth management policies internationally, like urban growth boundaries (UGBs), the green belt has become a particularly politically powerful, ‘sacrosanct’ concept and principle commanding widespread support as popularly seen as personifying England’s countryside, although it is not an environmental or landscape designation (Healey, 2007).

Homeowners do not have direct voting rights on local planning in England, as they do on zonal ordinances in the US, and English house prices have risen consistently since the Second World War notwithstanding new housing development (Gallent, 2019).2 However, housing and house prices still have huge cultural and economic importance in England and the popularly perceived ‘threat’ from new development is often a very important issue in national and local elections, especially as a majority of homeowners vote for the governing, centre-right Conservative Party (Gallent, 2019; Inch and Shepherd, 2019). However, the policy and international academic literature on the house price hypothesis has often been quantitative, typically drawing on national-level statistics, and aspatial as not geographically grounded in case studies (Coelho et al., 2014, 15). This article therefore seeks to anchor this discussion around space and directly explore multi-scalar popular attitudes towards the green belt, especially the importance of house prices as a motive for campaigners. Nationally, interviews were conducted with planners and planning stakeholders and statistics analysed of popular attitudes towards the green belt and house building. Regionally, there was a case study of the West Midlands Green Belt (WMGB), with interviews with planners and professional campaigners, alongside engagement with local campaign groups. The article is therefore qualitatively led with growing recognition of the socially constructed nature of housing and the importance of space and place attachment in the literature on environmental psychology and cultural geography, especially the poignance of the emotional and of ‘affect’ (Thrift, 2004, 59; Anton and Lawrence, 2014; Munro, 2018; White and Nandedkar, 2019). In particular, this article focuses upon the views of planners as the key actor in the planning system who regularly carry out public-participation exercises. However, their views have arguably been underrepresented in the literature on opposition to development, especially often ‘place-neutral’, ‘spatially blind’ and economically oriented policy making, like the government’s failed attempt to make direct payment to residents near new developments to lessen opposition (McGuinness et al., 2018, 330; Inch, Dunning et al., 2020). As explored in the section on methodology, the article acknowledges the possibility of planners having skewed views of campaigners (Parker et al., 2020), but the views of planners are triangulated with data from engagement with ‘professional’ and ‘everyday’ campaigners alongside national data sets.3

It finds that, although house prices may be an issue for people living directly adjacent to developments, even planners who were mainly sceptical of campaigners largely argued that opposition to green belt development was mainly driven by the overarching ‘fear of change’. This fear included general ‘principles’, especially protecting the green belt and countryside, which often crystallised around specific concerns about ‘place’. More normative concerns, like the effect of development upon a place’s character, were often intertwined and inseparably linked with more materialistic concerns about the effects on services and facilities. This underlines the broader importance of space, place attachment and cultural geography in the study of campaigners as opposed to the economic emphasis of the literature on the house price hypothesis (Bailey et al., 2016; Davison et al., 2016; Harrison and Clifford, 2016). Additionally, a distinction emerged between ‘professional’ campaigners who were generally concerned about the specific principle of green belt policy and typically took a strategic, regionalising conceptualisation of the green belt (Bradley, 2019a), and everyday campaigners who were more concerned about the principle of the countryside and often took a more localist, parochial view of the policy. These findings, especially that planners are sceptical of the house price hypothesis, pose poignant questions for public policy and the planning system and planners in addressing the pressing ‘wicked problem’ of the housing crisis and public acceptability of house building in many countries (Lund, 2017, 36). It is acknowledged that housing supply is only one part of complex, multifaceted housing crises around the world, with the widespread financialisation of land and housing, especially in England (Bradley, 2020), although researching community opposition to house building is important as there is still sometimes opposition to affordable and social housing development (Sturzaker, 2010).

This article therefore highlights the need for planning systems to better incorporate and be more cognisant of normative motivations whilst acknowledging the enduring importance of place. It recommends a national and strategic debate or ‘conversation’ on the principle of the green belt and urban containment, with Sturzaker (2011) demonstrating the utility of public deliberation in leading people to reconsider solutions to the housing crisis. Additionally, more integrated planning is arguably needed to more effectively manage the material effects of house building upon a local area. However, this is very challenging when the English system is increasingly marked by fragmentation and the calculative ‘turn’, meaning that empirical, ‘objective’ planning knowledge is increasingly privileged with the planning White Paper proposing to accelerate these trends through ‘digitising’ engagement (McAllister, 2017, 126; Bradley, 2019b; Inch, Tait and Chapman, 2020).4

The house price hypothesis and popular attachment to planning principles and place

This section outlines the prominence of the house price hypothesis in the literature before highlighting the literature on popular attachment to planning principles and particular places as an alternative way of explaining the complex, multifaceted nature of campaigners’ and the public’s motivations in opposing housing development. This is contextualised by reference to the article’s case study, the West Midlands Green Belt.

The house price hypothesis

A comprehensive literature exists on personal, material economic interests as the principal motive for campaigners’ opposing development across different academic traditions. The fundamental but broad theory of the house price hypothesis is that, as a property is the most valuable asset homeowners possess and the main way to accumulate household wealth, they will vigorously oppose development which they perceive as potentially depreciating the value of their asset (Short et al., 1987). Campaigners and opposition to development are often characterised as unrepresentative, sectional and grouped under the pejorative term ‘NIMBY’ (Fischel, 2001b, 144). However, these arguments are often based on broad data sets or inference on an intuitively powerful and logical narrative rather than through directly engaging with campaigners themselves as this article seeks to do (Bradley, 2019b; 2019a). Moreover, the literature on the ‘homevoter hypothesis’ was developed in the US, where local homeowners are sometimes able to ‘vote’ for restrictive and exclusionary zonal ordinances (Fischel, 2001b; 2001a; Dehring et al., 2008, 156; Taylor, 2013). However, whilst there is not a direct link between voting and local planning policies in England, the political power of homeowners, as seen in the prominence of the green belt and opposition to house building in local and national politics, means that the broader house price hypothesis has a central place in much of the academic and practitioner literature on opposition to house building (Cheshire et al., 2014).

First, neo-Marxian literature has characterised opposition to house building as driven by homeowners trying to protect their capital accumulation, or an ‘intracapitalist conflict’ between homeowners and house builders, who also are characterised as trying to maximise their capital accumulation through liberalising planning regulations, like the green belt (Foglesong, 1986, 22; Lake, 1993, 89). In this reading, the green belt, as the strongest protection against development, is the ultimate arena of contestation between these powerful and opposing material interests. Short et al. (1987, 36-37), in a case study of house building in central Berkshire, found that 88 per cent of people forming anti-development ‘stopper campaign groups’ were homeowners, and argued there was ‘a hardcore of material interest underneath the environmental concerns, relating to the impact of new development upon house prices’. However, the importance of the cultural and emotional is now widely recognised in broader literature, thus calling into question the primacy of the materialistic assumptions of this theory (for example: Thrift, 2004; Anton and Lawrence, 2014).

Following Fischel’s work, similar arguments have been made by more free-market economics schools, which, in Britain, are associated with the LSE and thinkers like Paul Cheshire, who advocates direct monetary payments to incentivise homeowners to accept development (Cheshire et al., 2014). Moreover, Hilber and Vermeulen (2014, 363), in a paper on national house prices and refusals of planning permission, argued, ‘Owners of developed land … will be more politically influential than owners of undeveloped land. Land-use constraints benefit the former group (via increasing property prices) but hurt the latter (via increasing development cost)’. Nonetheless, alongside questions about the extent to which the green belt and planning restrictions are the central cause of the housing crisis, as is often assumed in this literature, the importance of spatial variation alongside the cultural/emotional means that these arguments may also have limited utility in accounting for popular motivations towards house building (Inch, Dunning et al., 2020).

Authors from a more sociological perspective have also identified protecting house prices as being campaigners’ primary motive. For example, in a study of the Metropolitan Green Belt in Essex, Rydin (1985, 11, 64-65) argued that it served the ‘interests of certain sectional groups, particularly already powerful economic interests’ who desired to preserve their ‘elite situation’ and ‘high amenity, high value housing’. However, whilst Rydin (1985) adds a valuable spatial dimension, spatial and economic theory has progressed since the 1980s (Bailey et al., 2016).

Finally, in a quantitative study of England’s 349 local authorities, Coelho et al. (2014, 12) found that a 10 per cent higher homeownership level in a council area correlated with a 1.2 per cent fall in the growth of housing stock between 2001 and 2011. However, focusing on the concept of economic interests being paramount to campaigners (homo economicus), Matthews et al. (2015, 68), based on the Social Attitudes Survey, took a more nuanced approach in stressing the normative aspects of opposition and that ‘economic capital invested in housing is converted into symbolic capital’. Matthews et al. (2015, 68) underlined that the high social capital of campaigners resonated more with the concept of homo democraticus. Indeed, not only are there epistemological questions about the extent to which statistics can explain motivations, but, apart from the inference in Rydin’s (1985) paper, they do not directly address the house price hypothesis regarding the green belt - this article’s main objective.

The importance of planning principles and particular places

This section turns to the broader literature on planning principles and place attachment theory as an alternative way of explaining popular opposition to house building by exploring the green belt’s history, especially in the West Midlands. Indeed, general principles, like protecting the countryside or green belt, evidently overlap or crystallise in particular places, demonstrating the spatial interconnectedness of the national and local in explaining opposition to house building.

Literature on principles and places

The ‘cultural turn’ in geography has highlighted the importance of culture and the emotional in people’s motivations, as opposed to the economic, materialistic privileging of Marxian theory. Thrift (2004, 57) in particular has underlined the poignance of ‘intensity of feeling’, especially about place, and the resulting ‘politics of affect’ which specifically plays upon these emotions. The importance of environmental psychology and place attachment has also been underlined and applied by the work of Bailey et al. (2016) and others (Gross, 2007; Cowell et al., 2011) on opposition to wind farm development and the failure of local direct payments to influence opponents in favour. This arguably reflects the broader importance of place attachment within psychology (Anton and Lawrence, 2014), whilst Davison et al. (2016), in research on affordable housing in Australian cities, stresses the importance of emotional attachment to place.

More broadly, Bradley (2019b), in his research on Greater Manchester, has highlighted the importance of planning principles. He argued that not only do campaigners have a specific, local attachment to the green belt as ‘their’ countryside for recreational access, but also they often perceive it as a regionalising, coordinating concept or an ‘object’ that ‘joins’ people together, like the M60/M25 (Bradley, 2019a, 192). Inch, Dunning et al. (2020) have highlighted the importance of people’s principled opposition as partly explaining the failure of government proposals of direct payments to homeowners to help make local residents more favourable towards housing development.

The policy implications of this literature are that public deliberation is probably a more effective way to lead people to consider anew solutions to the housing crisis rather than direct economic incentives to lessen opposition (Sturzaker, 2011; Inch, Dunning et al., 2020).

Property, principles and place in the creation of the national and West Midlands Green Belt (WMGB)

The importance of the green belt and the countryside, as institutions and as popular contemporary planning principles, arguably stems from the scale and rapidity of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, alongside the concurrent and subsequent romanticisation of the countryside in popular culture (Hall, 1973; Matless, 1998). This is prescient in this article’s case study, the West Midlands, which was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, especially of ‘heavy’ industry, like iron foundries and coal mining, juxtaposed by the surrounding ‘rural’ counties, such as ‘leafy’ Warwickshire and ‘fruitful’ Worcestershire (Goode, 2019). Harrison and Clifford (2016, 594), based on historical and current popular literature, helpfully argued that the Industrial Revolution created the powerful binary and popular perception, which strongly exists to this day, of cities as ‘evil’/‘dirty’/‘contaminated’ and the countryside as ‘good’/‘pure’/‘clean’. The importance of planning principles can be seen in the green belt’s creation as emerging from this context and associated with leading planning thinkers and founders, like Ebenezer Howard’s garden city concept (Elson, 1986, 40). There were also the more place-based and territorial concerns of the counties wanting to prevent the further encroachment of ‘industrial’ cities like Birmingham and Manchester (Hall, 1973, 82, 565; 2014, 96).

Nevertheless, it was arguably the house building boom of the interwar period (1918-39), whereby 1,810,000 homes were constructed nationally by the private sector, which finally persuaded the interwar government, reluctant to interfere in the rights of landowners, to convert the concept of green belts into legislative form (Thomas, 1963, 17). This period had a tremendous impact on the countryside generally, with the amount of urbanised land (in England and Wales) increasing from 6.7 per cent to 8 per cent, but particularly in the West Midlands, where, buoyed by the growth of ‘new’ industries like General Electric and car making, in Birmingham over 100,000 new houses were built (Hall, 1973, 84). The city is currently being densified, with 81 per cent of new dwellings being apartments in 2018 (Best, 2019, 3), but in the interwar years 90 per cent of new council homes built were on greenfield land (Hall, 1973, 84). Assuming a similar proportion in private-sector developments, this marked a rapid and unprecedented outward expansion of the city. However, rather than just pressure from homeowners, public pressure for the green belt came from demands for more recreational access to the countryside by the cities, like Birmingham, London and Manchester, as called for by Raymond Unwin. The 1938 Green Belt Act safeguarded land purchased by councils under the Green Belt Loan Scheme for recreational access, with the land purchased primarily around London, but it also included the Lickey Hills, south of Birmingham, reflecting local growth pressures (West Midlands Group, 1948, 212; Amati and Yokohari, 2007, 317; Bradley, 2019b). This shows how popular conceptualisations of the green belt and the countryside are often laced with affective ‘intensities of feeling’ (Thrift, 2004, 57) whilst demonstrating that opposition to development has complicated historic roots often springing from a range of motivations.

The popular, normative deriding of urban sprawl, like being called an ‘octopus’ by Clough Williams-Ellis, found resonance in planning policy with Patrick Abercrombie’s (1945) Greater London Plan and the West Midlands Group’s (1948) study Conurbation. Both plans critiqued sprawl and accepted the popular, bucolic view of the countryside, emphasising the importance of place-specific context in shaping historic demands for a green belt alongside the significance of the normative in planning policy and practice (Valler and Phelps, 2018). Conurbation famously had photographs of the industrial character of the West Midlands, including a train journey from Birmingham to Wolverhampton; images of poor living conditions in urban areas, like inner-city Birmingham, and of ‘ribbon’ development, accompanied with derogatory remarks; and, like the Greater London Plan, bucolic images of the surrounding countryside (West Midlands Group, 1948, 6). For example, among plenteous examples of highly charged but enduring language, Conurbation (West Midlands Group, 1948, 64) referred to the ‘serious danger of sprawling development … it renders a large area of land “untidy” … it robs urban areas of cohesion’, whilst Abercrombie (1944, 40) referred to the ‘unwieldy mass of building’ and ‘menace of coalescence’. Given this context, after the 1947 Planning Act, which gave councils the power to designate green belts, and its codification in Circular 42/55, Abercrombie’s green belt was initially implemented, then expanded, in the Home Counties in the 1970s and 1980s (Elson, 1986, 40). The shires surrounding regional conurbations also implemented green belts, although the process took longer, with the WMGB agreed in 1955 but not formally approved until 1976 (Hall, 1973, 584). The green belt now covers over 1.6 million hectares and 13 per cent of England’s land surface (Sturzaker and Mell, 2016, 36). The importance of the green belt as a principle preventing urban sprawl and protecting the distinctive characteristics of place can be seen, therefore, in the enduring and continuing desires of the West Midland shires, through the WMGB, to preserve ‘their’ rural areas and contain an expanding, aggressive conurbation, especially Birmingham (Goode, 2019).

Property, places and principles in policy terms

The tension between largely viewing community opposition as place attachment or primarily concerned with property prices can be seen in policy and in the historic and ongoing ideological battles in the Conservative Party, between and seeking to reconcile the main strands of thinking in Conservatism (Tait and Inch, 2016, 187; Inch and Shepherd, 2019).

First, there is the often place-based, one-nation conservatism which stresses the importance of community, preserving heritage and protecting the green belt. It can be seen in the reasoning behind policies like neighbourhood planning and abolishing statutory regional planning in 2010 (regional spatial strategies - RSSs). Second, pro-development or neo-liberal conservatism promotes ‘liberalising’ or ‘freeing up’ the planning system to give greater freedoms to house builders, allowing the ‘market’ to ‘solve’ the housing crisis and incentivising the public to accept development (Inch, Dunning et al., 2020). This is built on the neo-liberal logic of the house price hypothesis, which views people as rational, economic actors, alongside the diagnosis of the housing crisis as being primarily one of supply. This can be seen clearly in the pro-growth National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the New Homes Bonus (a central government financial incentive for councils based on the number of new houses built locally), 5 Year Housing Land Supply (ensuring that councils have a rolling, ‘deliverable’ supply of land for residential development for five years) and, more recently, the Housing Delivery Test (a measure of annual local housing delivery) (MHCLG, 2019; Bradley, 2020). These are symptomatic of the calculative ‘turn’, with the increasingly technocratic, fragmented and evidence-based nature of planning in England (McAllister, 2017, 126; Parker et al., 2020).

Nonetheless, the government arguably now faces an electoral juxtaposition between placating existing homeowner Conservative voters, through one-nation conservatism, whilst widening homeownership to younger people (Tait and Inch, 2016). Indeed, the housing crisis is a severe and deepening ‘wicked problem’, with those aged thirty only half as likely to own their homes as the baby boomers and four times more likely to rent in 2017 (Lund, 2017, 36). The government has increasingly pursued a ‘muscular’ localist approach towards increasing housing supply whereby pressure is being applied to councils to meet housing targets and produce a ‘sound’ local plan (Tait and Inch, 2016, 187). However, simultaneously, the government still declares its support for the green belt and relies upon the weak ‘duty to cooperate’ between councils to resolve strategic issues, like the green belt and housing numbers (Boddy and Hickman, 2018, 213). Indeed, in areas where city regions/sub-regions do not have strategic planning powers, like the West Midlands, the green belt is largely managed locally and councils regularly review the green belt within their boundaries to meet housing ‘need’ (Best, 2019). Examples of West Midlands plans releasing WMGB land include the Birmingham Development Plan, Warwick District Local Plan (1,470 hectares), Coventry Local Plan (1,550 hectares accommodating 7,000 homes) and the emerging Solihull Local Plan, resulting in frequent and widespread WMGB campaigns (Wilding, 2018).

However, although the countryside has particular popular and political affective resonance in England, these debates and tensions between protecting the environment and house building have been and are present in many countries, so the article has broader relevance to policy making internationally on the public acceptability of house building (Inch, Dunning et al., 2020).

Materials and methods

Research design and rationale

A key aspect of the methodology was exploring the views of planners regarding campaigners’ motivations and the house price hypothesis. Planners help to shape policy through, for example, being members of government planning-policy ‘sounding boards’ and carrying out consultation exercises for local plans and planning applications (Parker et al., 2020). Consequently, planners often have extensive experience and knowledge of campaigners/campaigning and of popular opposition to development, whilst how they view campaigners has a very important impact on planning policy and practice. Of course, there is the risk that planners have a skewed view of campaigners as sometimes constructing ‘conceptual binaries’ of planners being ‘experts’ juxtaposed to the public as ‘ignorant’ and ‘irrational’, or that they resort to the ‘public-deficit explanation’ of the public as laypeople without an understanding of the planning system (Gibson, 2005, 383; Welsh and Wynne, 2013, 552). Although planners nominally have to serve the public interest as balancing development and conservation interests, they also operate within a pro-development, ‘growth-dependent’ system in England, are often supportive of development and can have vested interests as maybe representing a land promoter or house builder with sites in the green belt (Rydin, 2013, 1; Bradley, 2020). Nonetheless, planners’ views are still very important and triangulated in this article through exploring the views of campaigners themselves, especially everyday campaigners, on whose behalf professional campaigners often speak, alongside analysis of national data sets. Indeed, exploring the views of planners alongside those of campaigners also helps address the other issue of there potentially being a ‘gap’ between what campaigners publicly state and their ‘real’ motivations (Rydin, 1985). The article therefore elucidates planners’ and campaigners’ perspectives to inform the understanding and governing of opposition to house building. Whilst acknowledging that both planners’ and campaigners’ views can be biased and do not fully and unproblematically represent reality, the article does not focus on critically probing the respective value of their views as taking their views at face value.

The methodology was anchored around the spatial scales of the national level and regional case study (WMGB). First, the green belt is a national policy designation, so exploring the views of national planners/planning stakeholders/professional campaigners about the house price hypothesis and opposition to green belt development was vitally important, with twenty-nine semi-structured, national interviews with planning stakeholders and a focus group with planners conducted.5 Secondly, national statistics on popular attitudes and opinions towards the green belt, like the Social Attitudes Survey (MHCLG, 2018) and the CPRE’s Green Belt Questionnaire (CPRE, 2015), were analysed as these are usually conducted nationally rather than regionally.

The WMGB was used as a case study to explore the green belt and campaigner motivations in regional England because academic and, particularly, practitioner studies have largely focused on the Metropolitan Green Belt (Sturzaker and Mell, 2016). There were 33 interviews with planners and ‘professional’ campaigners and a focus group with planners regionally supplemented by 12 interviews with planners in other regions. The research participants were selected from the ‘triangle’ of interests in the development process - political, developer and conservationist - regionally as well as nationally, alongside broader ‘interested parties’ and influential groups, like the RTPI, think tanks and the legal profession (Adams and Tiesdell, 2013, 77). All the interviews were transcribed, and the transcripts analysed. This was accompanied by reading and analysis of ‘grey’ material on the green belt and housing, including commentary by planning stakeholders, especially regional ones (i.e. Best, 2019), and the planning press, like The Planner and Planning Resource.

Regionally, the researcher engaged with ‘live’ WMGB campaign groups, formed of everyday campaigners, through following their Twitter or Facebook accounts and coverage of their campaigns in the local media. The researcher directly contacted three groups with research questions and received responses from two of them, including written responses from twenty members of Save Stourbridge Green Belt, and interviews with a campaigner and a politician associated with Project Fields.6 This enabled the researcher to explore the perspectives of everyday campaigners, although this group is often challenging to engage, due to the time-limited nature of campaigns and the fact they were not full-time campaigners (Amati, 2007).

The research therefore followed an overall critical realist approach through triangulation of campaigners’ views regarding the green belt by different ‘mechanisms’ - spatial scales and viewpoints (planners and professional/everyday campaigners) (Yeung, 1997). However, this article focuses largely on the qualitative material because the nuances of planning’s political nature and campaigners’ motivations, which are very difficult to establish, are arguably better explored through interviews to enable probing of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ (Cochrane, 1998).

Case study approach taken and case selection

Given the green belt’s vast spatial extent, the study arguably needed to focus on a single case study or a small number of case studies in terms of green belt campaigns and campaigners. The region is an appropriate spatial scale for researching green belt campaigns and testing the house price hypothesis, compared to focusing on a single council area or campaign, because the green belt is a regional growth management policy. Moreover, there are arguably important similarities between regions, in terms of green belt campaigns, and broader key ‘lesson learning’ for policy regarding the characteristics of campaigners’ motivations (Squires and Heurkens, 2014, 7). The West Midlands is similar to other non-metropolitan regions, like the North West (surrounding Greater Manchester) and Yorkshire (surrounding Leeds), in that there is a large disparity between areas with economic deprivation and extensive brownfield land, like the Black Country, and other areas with high levels of economic growth and development pressure on the green belt like the M42 corridor and the Meriden Gap (Figure 1; Law, 2000; Charlson, 2020).

Key locations in the West Midlands Source: Adapted from https://troyplanning.com/project/green-belt-map/

However, the WMGB was selected, most importantly, because of the long history of conflict and campaigning over its green belt, especially between Birmingham and its neighbours. The current lack of strategic planning regionally has resulted in widespread and frequent green belt reviews and means that there is more campaigning compared to other regions. As ‘live’ campaign groups are difficult to engage with, the WMGB is an excellent case study for studying green belt campaigning and testing the house price hypothesis under the localism agenda and deepening housing crisis. Nonetheless, campaigners’ motivations can be theorised more broadly as the West Midlands faces similar issues to other post-industrial regions in the UK and internationally.

Current issues: West Midlands Green Belt (WMGB)

The WMGB covers nearly 225,000 hectares and forms a continuous ‘ring’, between five and seven miles wide, around the West Midlands conurbation, which is home to nearly 2.9 million people (Figure 1; CPRE and Natural England, 2010, 29). The green belt boundary was and is drawn very tightly around Birmingham and the Black Country, causing significant historic and current governance challenges (Hall, 1973, 51). The study focused on the motivations of two ‘live’ campaign groups in two contrasting parts of the conurbation.

Project Fields: Sutton Coldfield

Birmingham has a fast-growing and diverse population with population growth of 150,000 to 200,000 by 2031 predicted in the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP) from 2016, and a ‘need’ for 89,000 new homes (Birmingham City Council, 2017, 6). As the Labour city council has calculated that it has ‘room’ on brownfield land for only 39,000 homes, it released and allocated some of the very limited green belt land within its administrative boundary for 6,000 homes at Langley (Figure 1; Carpenter, 2016). Langley is near one of the wealthiest parts of the WMGB and the release was fiercely opposed by the campaign group Project Fields, allied with the local Conservative Party, and the local MP, Andrew Mitchell, who persuaded the then Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, to put a holding direction on the BDP (Johnston, 2017).7 Although the holding direction was subsequently lifted, it shows how politically influential campaigners can be and Project Fields has been heavily involved in subsequent consultation on the site (Goode, 2019). Nonetheless, governance issues are compounded and continue because the council still claims to have a shortfall of 38,000 homes which can only be met by the neighbouring authorities, many of which are also constrained by the WMGB, like the Black Country (Carpenter, 2016). This huge governance challenge for the WMGB was reflected with Roger Clews (2016, 44), the BDP’s inspector, recognising the ‘exceptional, possibly unique’ nature of Birmingham’s shortfall.

Save Stourbridge Green Belt (SSGB): Black Country

The Black Country has extensive areas of brownfield land but its urban-rural fringe, especially around Stourbridge, is very wealthy (Charlson, 2020). SSGB is a ‘live’ campaign group opposed to any release of green belt land within the reviewed and updated Black Country Core Strategy, especially as the Urban Capacity Reviews (2018, 2019) highlighted that there was not enough ‘room’ to meet housing ‘need’ on brownfield land.8 A green belt review is, therefore, being undertaken (whereas the 2011 strategy articulated the policy of a ‘strong green belt’ (Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council et al., 2011, 42; 2019, 35). The campaign is drawing support from the Conservative West Midlands metro mayor, Andy Street, again showing how politically influential campaigners can be with the publication of the review constantly delayed and yet to be published (Gutteridge, 2020).

Findings: the importance of ‘principle’ and ‘place’ concerns surrounding the fear of change

The main finding from the data is that the normative fear of change, whether regarding general ‘principles’ or a specific ‘place’, is the most important motive in opposition to house building for the majority of campaigners, especially in green belt areas, rather than direct economic concerns about property prices. Probably this reflects the lack of control people feel that they have over their communities and the built environment (Inch and Shepherd, 2019).

The views of planners

First, planners drew attention to the generalised fear of change among campaigners, be that at the principle or place level, as the primary, underlying motivation, apart from where a development directly affected one’s property. As a retired West Midlands structure planner argued,

The house price would come in for a very small percentage of people who are more or less directly affected, for example, the end of your back garden … The prime thing is people don’t like change. You could almost put a full stop there because then they start looking for reasons why … There is definitely a fear about noise, traffic and safety and there is very definitely a fear of crime … those are the sorts of things that they trot out as to why they are opposed to development.

This fear of change was related to a general normative attitude, as this private-sector planning director (South East) highlighted: ‘People don’t like change. There is almost something in our DNA. So it can be a change of work, home and the place where we know people. So, normally (and there are exceptions), but generally people are resistant to change. So, that is almost an instinctive approach.’ This planner did not explicitly establish a ‘conceptual binary’ of campaigners or the public being universally resistant to change and planners in favour of development as ‘progress’ by highlighting a general, instinctively cautious attitude (Gibson, 2005, 383). However, other planners challenged the ‘public-deficit explanation’ (Welsh and Wynne, 2013, 552) by arguing that people understood what change involved, like this local-authority planner (South East), whilst still accusing the public of ‘rash’ thoughts:

I wouldn’t say fear of change … because people know exactly what to expect … they know what to expect and they just don’t like it - ‘we don’t want this’ is the answer … The green belt sort of solidifies those areas of contest in some kind of specific frame of rash thought for people to attach to.

Nonetheless, most planners underlined the importance of the fear of change and related it to general planning principles, like the loss of countryside, whilst making a distinction between fear of change as the primary, underlying motive and the green belt being a strategy for opposing development:

The responses to a local plan or planning application) are, by and large, related to the principle of development in the countryside, whether that be green belt or not … it doesn’t matter to Joe Blogs from number 42 whether the field outside the back of his house is green belt or not … It’s just that the green belt becomes a really effective way of opposing something. (Planner from a national house builder)

This demonstrates the power of ‘green belt’/‘countryside’ as an influential motivation and principle which often marshals campaigners (Harrison and Clifford, 2016). Planners also highlighted how fear of change crystallised around particular places, underlining the importance of place attachment, especially as the ‘rural’ was seen as personified in the WMGB as juxtaposed to ‘industrial’ Birmingham and the Black Country. Indeed, fears seemed to centre more on a place’s semi-rural character being altered by development than on property prices per se, as a national planner, with extensive experience in the West Midlands, argued:

[there is] elitism in so far as they (green belts) are currently located next to the most prosperous areas … a lot of people who are defending green belt are doing it because they want to protect their own way of life … If you’re in a suburban area and you have immediate access to the countryside or living in the countryside itself, maintaining your own way of life, your own property values and the uniqueness of having green belt around you … (that applies more in London and the South East) but also applies in the West Midlands. In large areas around Birmingham and the Black Country, are swathes of green belt land (which) extend as far as Warwick and areas to the east of Meriden Gap (in particular) … which are very sensitive enclaves for very wealthy people.

However, these normative concerns about an area’s character changing blended with more materialistic concerns about the impact of development on local services and facilities, again highlighting the importance of place attachment (Bailey et al., 2016). How local services are funded, especially the necessary improvements accompanying house building, is beyond this article’s scope, but it emerged as a strong issue, as this planner commented regarding Langley:

There is a lot of: ‘Well, around our area, we can’t accommodate this level of growth and there is no guarantee that infrastructure will be provided’. So, that will come back to the confidence people have in the planning systems to make sure that infrastructure is put in place. One of the challenges with that is new development doesn’t address existing deficiencies in those areas … if it is perceived to be adding to the problem rather than fully addressing it, then there is always going to be that challenge that people won’t always be happy with the decisions of that growth going in that local area really.

A minority of planners located protecting property values as the primary motive, as this former local-authority planning director (West Midlands) argued: ‘The majority of people are objecting based on things that result in loss of value of their property.’ Nonetheless, most planners located fear of change, associated with general planning principles and concerns about place, as the most powerful motivation for campaigners.

The views of campaigners/the public

‘Professional’

As professional campaigners aim to persuade the public and planners of the legitimacy of their concerns, invariably property prices did not feature prominently as a motivation (Amati, 2007). However, in triangulating their views with those of planners, similar themes emerged regarding motivations, thus undermining the primacy of the house price hypothesis. First, campaigners had general and regional-specific concerns surrounding the countryside in the West Midlands, as this retired, long-standing West Midlands MP argued:

We should retain as much of the countryside as possible, which is among the most beautiful countryside in Europe and the world, whilst recognising human pressures and demands through the rest of the century … How do we best preserve in perpetuity what really makes this country what it is? … it should never be a growth that destroys the character of the place. Far too often it is.

Alongside the green belt protecting the distinctive characteristics of settlements and the countryside generally, the principle of the green belt emerged strongly for professional campaigners, as a CPRE West Midlands planner argued: ‘Most importantly, I think people do hold the ideology of the green belt in high esteem. I certainly do … It is the principle’.

These more general, normative concerns about the countryside and green belt preventing urban sprawl are probably general around the country, but intermingled with place attachment, especially about one’s locality changing in character, alongside development putting pressure on local services. This seemed particularly poignant against the backdrop of the ‘industrial’ West Midlands conurbation. As a retired strategic planner (West Midlands) argued:

If you have new housing … you will fundamentally change the character of this area and it topples over. So, you no longer have got an attractive area to attract investment … what I call, some ‘Rolls-Royce areas’ … The premium sites should be premium sites … And the great danger is that it will become an ‘anywhere’ place. So sensible planning would try to manage this to make sure it is more sustainable. (Housing) is proposed on a very large scale (in) Knowle[9] … if you look at the car parking and road situation, it is difficult already … it’s dangerous etc. You are changing the character of the place, quite fundamentally … you are extending urban development into the rural area, rural scene … it will be very damaging.’

Similar points were made by a former West Midlands MP, although they probably have broader resonance about greenfield development across the country:

The roads in green belt locations, rural locations, are often not fit for purpose for the volume of traffic associated with putting a new settlement into the countryside because, inevitably, the family will require a car … to get to school and work … The roads around Dickens Heath are the same width as were originally intended for a settlement of a third that size … So that shows you how very quickly you get unsustainable development.

These quotes, therefore, underline the poignancy of the house price hypothesis and highlight how general principles often get reflected and refracted into local circumstances.

‘Everyday’ campaigners

Everyday campaigners seemed more concerned with the green belt as a local, parochial issue rather than a strategic whole, highlighting the importance of place attachment.10 First, there was greater concern about the countryside rather than the Green Belt as a principle: ‘Whether the land proposed for development is Green Belt or open countryside is largely immaterial from the point of view of the effects of development’. ‘I have lived near these lovely fields all my life’ (Campaigner, Project Fields). Second, at the ‘place’ level, there were normative and materialistic concerns about the effects of development on local ‘character’. These concerns are probably present around the country but were particularly intense in the West Midlands, with the spectre of ‘Birmingham’ encroaching into the countryside:

The development of Stourbridge further would permanently and fundamentally change its character. At the moment, the town is extremely close to nature, allowing its residents the opportunity to enjoy walking through the remaining open spaces, and these currently offer an opportunity for nature to thrive. Additionally, there is the fact that these spaces do help our environment. At a time when climate change and habitat loss is such a concern, the loss of green space and the animals that live in them should not be underestimated.

Birmingham could very quickly envelope the whole area. The Black Country would lose its distinctive character and an amorphous urban sprawl would result.

The first quote shows how campaigners often relate their ‘local’ concerns to wider issues, like climate change.11 Again, these principled concerns mingled with more materialistic concerns about the effects of development on local facilities, rather than property prices per se, as reasons for opposing green belt development included:

‘Loss of a valuable resource which is both leisure- and aesthetics-related’.

‘More pressure on local infrastructure, which is already under huge pressure in most areas.’

‘Traffic increased on local roads, journey times taking longer, increased pollution from higher traffic volumes and higher pollution levels.’

‘Local leisure facilities more difficult to access because of the pressure of local population increases.’

Statistics on the public’s perspectives on house building and the green belt

These observations generally chime with the quantitative data, as in CPRE’s (2015) Green Belt Questionnaire, commissioned by Ipsos MORI (2015, 5), 64 per cent of people agreed with the statement that ‘the Green Belt should be retained and not built on’, including 72 per cent (among) owner occupiers, 58 per cent socially rented and 57 per cent privately rented (a 15-16 per cent ‘gap’). Whilst the green belt therefore commands less support among non-homeowning groups, it evidently still commands widespread support across social groups, thus strongly suggesting that it is supported for reasons of principle, not just property. Indeed, notwithstanding the critique that the CPRE’s questionnaire was self-selecting, a questionnaire in the same year by YouGov (2015, 3), commissioned by the developer Broadway Malyan, found a similar proportion (67 per cent) of people supporting the green belt as a principle. Levels of opposition regarding greenfield development were significantly less at 48 per cent, suggesting, again, that green belt as a principle commands wider support than greenfield land (YouGov, 2015, 3). At 72 per cent, the West Midlands had the highest level of support for the green belt (YouGov, 2015, 3), despite having lower homeowner-ship levels than other regions, probably because the WMGB is seen as containing an ‘industrial’ conurbation.

Broader data sets invariably revealed a contradictory and complex picture regarding campaigners’ motivations, although they generally call into question the primacy of the house price hypothesis. In deriving motivations from factors that would make people more supportive of development in the Social Attitudes Survey (SAS), medical facilities, employment and transport feature as most important (MHCLG, 2018, 13). This strongly suggests that, whilst there maybe deep, materialistic concerns about the impact of development upon local facilities, the data undermines the house price hypothesis, with financial incentives hardly mentioned by the public (MHCLG, 2018, 13). Indeed, an area of significant concern seemed to be the lack of affordable housing and the expense of new house building because, in the 2016 SAS, 72 per cent of people said they would support more housebuilding locally, if it was affordable (NatCen Social Research, 2017, 1). In the YouGov (2018, 3) questionnaire, 59 per cent of people nationally and 52 per cent locally supported the statement that the government should ‘bring house prices down a moderate amount’, although the 2016 SAS showed that homeowners were more likely to actively oppose development (MHCLG, 2018, 9).

Discussion: moving towards a national green belt ‘conversation’

Reflecting the broader ‘cultural turn’ in geography (Thrift, 2004), the findings suggest the need for theory and practice regarding the understanding and governing of campaigning and popular opposition to new house building to be more cognisant of the public’s principled concerns. Moreover, the importance of space and place attachment has been underlined, yet central government housing policy is currently largely ‘place-neutral’ and ‘spatially blind’ (McGuinness et al., 2018, 330). First, in terms of economic theory, it suggests that the primacy given to personal, material interests or homo economicus is overstressed (Matthews et al., 2015, 68). Other motivations, like popular planning principles and concerns about the normative and materialistic impacts of development on place, need to be brought to the fore. This resonates with Matthews et al.’s (2015, 68) characterisation of homo democraticus and, although behavioural economics is becoming more aware of the normative and emotional, this article finds more theoretical resonance in the literature on emotional attachment to place, environmental psychology and ‘affect’ (Thrift, 2004, 57; Anton and Lawrence, 2014; Davison et al., 2016). This relates to the post-structuralist literature, which calls for scholars to be sensitive to the intersectionality, hybridity and complexity of people’s motivations (McDowell, 2016). Indeed, the article has critiqued the implicit but powerful and widely adopted assumptions of the house price hypothesis whilst demonstrating the complexity and diversity of people’s motivations in opposing new house building. Indeed, this is not to argue that house prices are an insignificant motivation for campaigners or the public, but the article has critiqued the primacy it is often given in the literature.

Nevertheless, the importance of affect surrounding emotional attachment to place, fear of change and the poignance of general planning principles reflect the broader power of the twin, interrelated concepts of ‘countryside’ and ‘green belt’ in the popular imagination in England (Warren and Clifford, 2005, 378; Mace, 2018). Arguably, campaigners locally and nationally seek to use the ‘politics of affect’ regarding popular fears of the simple but powerful binary of the countryside being ‘concreted over’, the green belt being ‘under threat’ and already congested places becoming ‘gridlocked’ by new house building (Thrift, 2004, 57; Warren and Clifford, 2005, 361). Moreover, stressing the significance of the normative is not to construct campaigners as unproblematic, beneficent actors because the normative can often have a powerful and exclusionary undertone, especially with local ‘othering’ and notions of keeping ‘out’ ‘urban’ people (Harrison and Clifford, 2016; Sturzaker, 2010; Sturzaker and Mell, 2016) who do not share the green belt ‘way of life’ (as one planner put it). However, the effective power of campaigners is arguably significantly circumscribed in a planning system which is pro-development and increasingly centralised, with more deregulation proposed in the White Paper. Nonetheless, the enduring affective political power of the green belt can be seen in that this is the one area of the system which the White Paper does not propose overhauling (Simons, 2020). Although the affective power of the ‘countryside’ as a concept is particularly intense in England and the green belt is relatively unique internationally as a national policy and in its popularity, more international research is needed on the affective power of other key concepts related to the countryside, like the ‘green heart’ in the Netherlands, and how effectively campaigners can exercise power in other planning systems (Zonneveld, 2007).

Indeed, the article has highlighted that planning principles and place attachment have always been important in ‘framing’ planners and campaigners’ viewpoints (Valler and Phelps, 2018, 1), especially in England, as seen in the Abercrombie plan and in Conurbation and the green belt’s origin in the conservation movement. Arguably, the abolition of RSSs, the localism agenda and the calculative ‘turn’ since 2010 have conjoined to deepen popular concerns about planning principles, like the green belt, with land being increasingly released incrementally rather than as part of a strategic plan, particularly in the West Midlands. The scope for strategic spatial vision in planning and debate about the various spatial and social trade-offs involved in the green belt, alongside the broader housing crisis, is also increasingly restricted, with central government long circumscribing and modulating local ‘knowledge’ and participation in planning through housing targets (Murdoch and Abram, 1998; Bradley, 2018). Moreover, increasing fragmentation and centralisation of the system have made it more challenging to mitigate the material impacts of house building on place and fund necessary infrastructure accompanying development (Parker et al., 2020).

A few planners interviewed suggested responding to popular concern about planning principles and place by reducing public participation in planning to leave it to planners as ‘experts’. However, it is vital to consider ways in which these concerns could be better acknowledged and incorporated into planning as, arguably, the effective functioning of planning systems relies upon public confidence (Murdoch and Abram, 1998; Raynsford Review, 2018). Indeed, the literature and this article demonstrate the utility of public deliberation in leading people to reconsider solutions to the housing crisis (Sturzaker, 2011). First, there should be a national debate and conversation on the strategic purpose and overall spatial extent of the green belt, as part of a national plan which would explore various solutions to the housing crisis, demand- as well as supply-side solutions, and allocate broad areas of development and restraint. Whilst to effectively engage the public there would arguably need to be a preceding programme of extensive public education, a national debate would hopefully steer the discussion away from specific sites and detailed matters of policy, as now, towards broader normative principles and exploring the various policy ‘trade-offs’ of green belts and alternative policies available. Neighbourhood planning is an example in principle at a lower spatial scale of how normative knowledge can be integrated into planning (Bradley, 2018). Second, there should be a strategic regional/sub-regional plan, like the Abercrombie plan, to explore the various spatial visions and blueprints for accommodating a region’s housing need, like new towns, urban densification, urban extensions etc., to help ‘redraw’ green belt boundaries, with additions alongside deletions considered, and to identify development locations for the long term. Again, this would help broaden the green belt debate to wider planning principles whilst giving confidence to the public and campaigners regarding the green belt’s permanence through not continually reviewing boundaries, as currently, and granting more certainty to house builders. Although beyond this article’s scope, the broader issue of land value capture needs to be resolved, maybe through a green belt ‘tax’ (Cheshire and Buyuklieva, 2019). However, many of the more materialistic ‘place’ issues that campaigners raised regarding development, including transport, health-care and education, are managed at a higher spatial scale, often county councils, or by different bodies, such as NHS trusts or academies, to that at which green belt reviews are mostly undertaken (district level). Local government reorganisation is anticipated with the devolution White Paper, but the better joining together and integration of transport and land use planning strategically, alongside other forms of planning, like healthcare, are vital to address some of these materialistic, place-based concerns (Riddell, 2020). It would give campaigners and the public confidence that adequate facilities and services will be provided alongside development.

More broadly, this article has applied the international literature on place attachment, environmental psychology and the cultural to explain opposition to housing development in England, thereby highlighting the wider utility of this literature in explaining campaigners’ motivations.

Conclusion

This article has critiqued the centrality of house prices in the literature regarding the motivations of campaigners and the public opposing development. The data revealed the importance of principled concerns, including the overarching fear of change about general planning principles, especially protecting the countryside and the green belt. These often crystallise around attachment to place, like fears about its ‘character’ changing and materialistic concerns about the impact of development upon local services and facilities. This underlines the broader importance of the literature being more cognisant of principles and the emotional in campaigner’s motivations, especially the centrality of spatial considerations about the ‘local’ and ‘place’, which finds resonance in the literature on place attachment (DeVerteuil, 2013).

More qualitative research is needed to focus on different regions/countries, the characteristics of different campaign groups and whether opposition to house building in the green belt and to wider greenfield development varies significantly in character. Nevertheless, establishing motivations is challenging, especially the potential ‘gap’ between what people say and what they believe, underscoring the need for triangulation, whilst campaigners are clearly a heterogeneous, complex and multifaceted group with different motivations intersecting in different ways in each individual. However, theorising opposition to development is important for planning theory, practice and policy making. This article has briefly outlined the various ways that principle and place attachment could be better integrated into the system in England through a national green-belt debate and strategic planning. Strategic planning could also more effectively address campaigners’ materialistic concerns regarding the impact of house building on place. Perhaps it is time for the planning system and planners to (re)turn from its current technical focus towards the more normative visions of its founders like Abercrombie.

Green belts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales operate slightly differently from the English one which is the focus of this article (Lloyd and Peel, 2007).

Local plans are made and planning applications determined by locally elected councillors on the advice of professional planners. Neighbourhood plans go to a local referendum but they have limited weight compared to local plans and can only alter green belt boundaries at a neighbourhood level (Tait and Inch, 2016).

‘Professional’ campaigners were typically retired and/or professional planners working on a range of campaigns for an organisation like the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England). ‘Everyday’ campaigners were not professional planners and were involved in specific, ‘live’ campaigns, like Save Stourbridge Green Belt.

The White Paper proposes ‘upfront’ engagement at the plan-making stage, through outline planning permission granted in plans in ‘growth’ areas rather than the current discretionary, case-by-case approach (MHCLG, 2020, 18). Reducing the plan-making period to thirty months, compared to the current average of eighty-four months, will also reduce the scope for community involvement, with the government desiring much greater use of technology and ‘proptech’ in the engagement process (MHCLG, 2020, 16-20).

The ‘national level’ is defined in this research as planners/planning stakeholders working in London for a national organisation, i.e. the RTPI, CPRE or the Home Builders Federation.

The politician and campaigner were initially interviewed in 2016, when Project Fields were actively campaigning (as part of a master’s dissertation). The researcher gained their consent to reuse the data in the doctoral research and reinterviewed the politician, to retrospectively review the campaign process, and also clarified points via email with the campaigner (as she was too busy to be reinterviewed).

A ‘holding direction’ prevents a local authority from adopting a plan as it is issued by national government, giving it time to scrutinise plans (Hickman and Boddy, 2020, 31). Birmingham City Council has been Labour-controlled since 2012 and the local Conservative group draws its political support largely from the ‘outer’ wards. The leader of Project Fields, Suzanne Webb, was elected Conservative MP for Stourbridge in the 2019 general election.

The Black Country Core Strategy is a joint plan by the constituent Black Country authorities: Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton (Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council et al., 2011; 2019, 3).

Knowle is a town in the Meriden Gap (Figure 1) in one of the wealthiest areas in the WMGB.

The quotes in this section are all by campaigners from Save Stourbridge Green Belt, apart from the ones indicated by Project Fields.

The responses were compiled in May 2019, shortly after the Extinction Rebellion protests in April 2019.

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Details

Author details

Goode, Charles