A large majority of people in Scotland want the green spaces around urban areas to be better defended from property developers, according to an opinion poll.

More than 70 per cent of those questioned agreed that green belt land should have “stronger protection” against proposed housing estates, business parks and industrial projects.

This year Scottish ministers have overturned their own experts’ advice to give the go-ahead to two major developments that will damage green belts – a sports centre near Dunblane and a film studio near Edinburgh.

The poll was commissioned by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) and carried out by Survation. More than a thousand people were interviewed across Scotland in May and June 2017.

They were asked whether or not they agreed that “all green belt land in Scotland should have stronger protection from building development.” Nearly 39 per cent agreed “strongly” and 32 per cent agreed “somewhat”.

Only one per cent strongly disagreed and five per cent somewhat disagreed. Some 18 per cent said they neither agreed nor disagreed, and five per cent said they didn’t know.

APRS is urging ministers to better defend the eleven green belts around Scotland’s urban areas. “They should be protected for the long term by national and local planning policy,” said the association’s director, John Mayhew.

“Once lost they are gone forever. They will be even more important for our children and grandchildren than they are for us.”

Green belts were under “severe pressure” from developers, Mayhew argued. “They have gradually been whittled away over the years, largely by speculative housing developments,” he added.

“Most damage comes from speculative commercial proposals for sites not allocated in the council’s local development plan. Sometimes the development sounds worthy, such as a film studio or tennis centre, but also includes extensive housing or hotel development.”

Most damage comes from speculative commercial proposals for sites not allocated in the council’s local development plan John Mayhew, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland

In April the Scottish Government gave notice of its intention to grant planning permission in principle for Pentland film studio and linked developments near Straiton in Midlothian. Ministers rejected a recommendation from their planning reporter to refuse permission because of the damage that would be done to Edinburgh’s green belt.

In August ministers gave the go-ahead to a tennis and golf centre with housing at Park of Kier near Dunblane promoted by Judy Murray, the mother of tennis ace, Andy. That decision also overturned a reporter’s recommendation to protect the green belt.

APRS recognised the pressure to build more housing, Mayhew said. “But previously-developed brownfield sites should be developed first. Development sites in green belts should only be allocated as a last resort.”

Dr Ann Glen from Monklands Glen Community Council in North Lanarkshire pointed out that green belts were much more than zones of separation between built-up areas. “They are crucial for the well being of both people and nature, bringing countryside close and accessible,” she said.

“The health benefits of such green places for both body and mind are increasingly recognised – as they offer a ‘green pill’ to improve many conditions.”

Duncan Campbell, from Edinburgh’s civic trust the Cockburn Association, welcomed the poll results. “I sincerely hope it will send a strong signal to policy and decision makers to achieve a more equitable balance between the requirements of growth and those of the environment and society,” he said.

The Scottish Government stressed there were already strong protections for green belts. “Any proposed development must be weighed up on environmental considerations as well as other criteria,” said a spokesperson.

“We will listen carefully to all representations going forward as we look to review, simplify and improve the planning system.”

Majority oppose new town in a national park

Another opinion poll suggests that more people are against building a new town in the Cairngorms National Park than are for it.

More than 44 per cent of those questioned said they opposed a plan for 1,500 new houses at An Camas Mòr, near Aviemore. Just under 25 per cent said they supported the idea, and the same proportion said they neither opposed or supported the plan.

The development was granted planning permission in principle by the Cairngorms National Park Authority in August, despite prolonged and fierce opposition from conservation groups. The scheme was initially approved in 2014, but lost a major financial backer.

The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group (BSCG), which opposed An Camas Mòr, commissioned pollsters Survation to assess views on the development. More than 1,000 people across Scotland were interviewed between 8-12 September.

An Camas Mòr is a controversial and damaging development in a highly prized and sensitive area Gus Jones, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group

BSCG’s convener, Dr Gus Jones, was encouraged by the poll results. “There is considerable opposition to this large scale development in a national park,” he said.

“An Camas Mòr is a controversial and damaging development in a highly prized and sensitive area, and requires large scale public funding. We hope the results of this poll will encourage the Scottish Government to think again.”

The Cairngorms Campaign argued that supporting the new town went against the will of the Scottish people. The park authority had issued approval “without due regard for the natural and cultural heritage of the area, which should be their first aim,” said the campaign’s Helen Geddes.

Cairngorm park authority’s chief executive, Grant Moir, pointed out that developers still had to make a legal agreement. “The applicant has to comply with a suite of conditions and supply a significant amount of detail to the authority’s planning committee on these conditions before any work can begin on An Camas Mòr.”

Opinion poll on green belts in full

Opinion poll on An Camas Mor in full

Photo thanks to Andrew Smith, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 17 September 2017 here and here.