• Development Intelligence

Latest CPRE fake news

You can literally set your calendar by it. Every year. Right on time. First week of August. Boom! There it is. Media silly season, take that!

And so on the first Monday in August, CPRE launched its latest broadside on how evil all housebuilders are, aka how the green belt is being destroyed. This story might be interesting if (a) it wasn’t categorically untrue and (b) it wasn’t a reheated story repeated so often that even journalists are now tired of it too.

As ever, this year CPRE reached new ‘peak hyperbole’ with its annual State of the Green Belt Report; see it here. Its main arguments in its media release and dutifully covered by the media were:

  • There are currently 460,000 homes being planned to be built on land that will soon be released from the green belt.

  • Green belt development is not solving the affordable housing crisis, and will not do so.

  • Last year 72% of homes built on green field land within the green belt were unaffordable by the government’s definition.

  • Of the 460,000 homes that are planned to be built on land that will be released from the green belt, the percentage of unaffordable homes will increase to 78%.

So that’s interesting. CPRE are more interested in affordable housing than actually protecting the green belt. Is that not the job of other lobby groups? Why could it be that CPRE are focussing on that rather than actually the amount of green belt that’s being “destroyed”?

  • If you dig into the detail of the report, you also see some wonderful lobby group tactics on display:

  • Select the dataset that is most flattering to your argument – Thus CPRE choose MHCLG’s Land Use Change Statistics published each May.

  • Pick the largest/most scary number – Throughout the report, CPRE use the number of “hectares lost” without any relevant context.

  • Use misleading comparisons – When it does finally remember the concept of percentages, it quotes the “percentage increase in the loss of green belt”. So if 1 hectare is lost in one year and then 2 hectares in the next, CPRE would not record that as a net loss of 2 hectares but a ‘100% increase in the loss of green belt’.

Now let’s introduce some facts, you know, those rather pesky inconvenient things that upend your argument. The annual green belt ‘bible’ is actually a document produced by MHCLG imaginatively titled ‘Local Authority Green Belt Statistics for England’; see the most recent version here. A few points:

  • The headline figure quoted in the opening summary of the most recent document was a “less than 0.05%”reduction in the size of the green belt”. Absolutely technically correct.

  • But if you actually interrogate the data tables, the exact number is really 0.00048304%. So yes, it is correct to say the reduction was less than 0.05% just as it would also be technically correct to say that it was less than 10%. Or less than 100%.

  • The actual true figure is really 0.0005%. Yup. Those noughts are in the right place.

  • Even if you add the last four years of data together you come up with the earth shatteringly unfrightening number of a 0.002% reduction in the size of the green belt.

So the real story each August should actually be ‘why are Government civil servants in their annual reporting exaggerating the ludicrously infinitesimal reduction in the size of the green belt each year?’ Guessing CPRE won’t run that one next August.