Campaigngers battling to save Rainford’s green belt from housing developers have given a cautious welcome to the government’s white paper on housing.
Rainford Action Group says it is pleased the government has renewed its commitment to protecting the green belt and reiterated that green belt development should only happen in “exceptional circumstances”.
However, they warned that town hall chiefs could still try to put forward a case that “exceptional circumstances” exist in the borough.
The group says it will continue to fight any plan to weaken green belt protection alongside other campaign groups from across St Helens.
Under the St Helens Local Plan Preferred Options, seven large sites in Rainford would be taken out of the green belt with one being used for an industrial unit and the other six to build at least 1,140 houses.
Rainford would grow by a third under the plan. The group claims none of the houses would cost less than £250,000.
The council can no longer take the easy route and claim the government is forcing them to concrete our countrysideJames Wright, chair of the Rainford Action Group
The council claims St Helens needs new housing on this scale but such claims have been rubbished by Rainford Action Group who point to census data that shows St Helens’ population has been falling for 30 years.
James Wright, chair of the Rainford Action Group, said: “We cautiously welcome the housing white paper. Government policy is now clear - green belt land can only be developed as a very last resort.
“That means not one spade should be dug into our green belt until every other possible option is exhausted – and we’re a very long way from that in St Helens. The council can no longer take the easy route and claim the government is forcing them to concrete our countryside.”
The white paper has triggered a national debate on housing. The government has made clear they believe development close to urban areas, where good transport connections already exist, should be prioritised.
Mr Wright said: “We all recognise more must be done to help people onto the property ladder nationally. But home ownership in St Helens is higher than the regional and national average.
“St Helens is not Surrey or some London borough where housing is at crisis point. St Helens needs growth but that doesn’t justify a green belt grab.
“Those people nationally calling for green belt protection to be relaxed claim the land is often ugly and useless. Well that’s not true in Rainford. The sites the council wants to destroy are both beautiful and of the highest agricultural quality possible.”