What's the future for Keynsham's green-belt gap as Bristol housing demand rises?

Published on: 06 Feb 2015

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As cities across the country struggle to meet rising demand for housing within their boundaries, it’s understandable that those stretches of green space on their edges might seem the obvious answer to some to accommodate the inevitable urban spread.

But for many living in the small towns that exist on their edges, those fields and empty expanses might represent the last line of defence against being “swallowed up” by their larger neighbours and the loss of their independent character.

It’s an argument Keynsham knows well, separated from Bristol by the smallest of green buffers, the scene of battles by past campaigners to prevent development over the years, as this poster created by Mary Fairclough in the 1970s proves.

The “thorny question” of the green belt was raised again recently by Bristol Alderman Paul Smith, who has spent his career working in the housing sector and was invited to speak to Bristol’s Civic Society. There he posed the question whether the green-belt boundaries, such as that to the city’s south east between Keynsham and Bristol, should be reconsidered if brownfield sites couldn’t meet the need.

Speaking to Keynshamvoice, he said:  “The thorny question is if we need more housing then where are they going to go? Whenever a development is proposed, whether it’s urban, rural or in a market town, there tends to be a lot of opposition very quickly.

“RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) suggests, and I agree, that the green belt should be looked at again – which bits are really important pieces of land that need to be protected and which pieces are rough agricultural land with little environmental value which could be used to extend the city. But rather than reduce green belt we could do a swap by designating other land to become green belt.

“If we are going to address the housing need we can’t just look at brownfield sites, which in Bristol tend to have become parks, the green spaces that make cities livable.”

Despite Keynsham’s close proximity to Bristol and RIBA’s suggestions, however, Mr Smith doesn’t think the two will be joined up any time soon.

“Keynsham is economically part of Bristol but I don't think they will be physically linked as there isn’t any will to see that,” he said.

“Being joined doesn’t stop places having their own character and identity within a city – people in Kingswood still feel they live in Kingswood not Bristol, for example.”

But for long-term resident and Keynsham Civic Society member Judi Grant, Keynsham's independence is worth fighting for – particularly, she says, as the town’s future looks bright with plans to provide more of its own employment for its own growing population, making it economically more independent.

She said: “I was brought up and educated in Bristol and am proud to be a product of such a great city. I’ve spent over 35 years living in Keynsham, a thriving town which still has the friendliness and inclusiveness of a large village.

“The people of Keynsham enjoy easy access to both Bristol and Bath while wishing to maintain their town’s unique character. We’ve respect for our larger neighbours but do not wish to become part of them.”

As Bristol City Council works towards the target of providing more than 26,000 new homes set out in its core strategy, the green belt between the city and Keynsham is earmarked as land that could be used as a contingency if there was a shortfall in new homes in future.

But developments are on course to meet targets, said a city council spokesperson: “Green-belt land is an important resource which helps to prevent urban sprawl and allows neighbouring towns to maintain their separate identities.  While local authorities allocate these areas, green belt is part of a wider government policy.

“While this land is intended to be permanently dedicated to this status, there are certain areas which could be used as part of a long-term contingency for development.  This includes areas in the south-east of Bristol. However, this would only be considered if Bristol was struggling to deliver the planned amount of housing or if more was required. 

“Currently, Bristol has a five-year supply of housing land and is on course to meet its targets for new homes.  Therefore, there is no need to consider developing on this land at this present time.”

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