Since abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, London has had no strategic planning authority. The London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC) was formed to fill the vacuum. Its role has been to give Strategic Advice’8 on London planning to the Department of the Environment (DOE). The DOE makes some use of this advice in preparing Strategic Guidance’9 for the 33 local planning authorities in the former GLC area. Advice and Guidance waft across London like the east and west winds, with the west wind, from the DOE, prevailing. Advice and Guidance agreed that the Green Belt must be permanent, but Guidance was less positive. Advice followed the Layf’ield Panel in stressing the importance for the Green Belt of recreation, agriculture and the rehabilitation of derelict land. It did not identify recreation or nature conservation as one of the main purposes of the Green Belt, though it did observe that there is scope for them to be improved. Guidance went further than the GLDP in identifying the purpose of Metropolitan Open Land, but not as far as Advice. Guidance re-stated the GLDP criterion that Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) should be ‘significant to London as a whole’ and went on to say that it could: contribute to the physical structure of London, include open-air facilities which serve the whole or part of London, or contain features of interest which are worthy of protection on account of having more-than-local value. Advice supported these points with clear tables listing the ‘Criteria for MOL’ and ‘Acceptable Uses in MOL’. Guidance stated unequivocally that ‘The presumption against development in the Green Belt applies equally to MOL’. Such a statement would have been unnecessary if Layfield’s advice had been taken. Advice supported and extended the concept of a hierarchy of open space sizes and types, as put forward by the GLDP. It was extended to six categories by including Regional Parks (of at least 400 hectares, within 3.2—8 km from each home) and Linear Open Spaces (which should be provided wherever feasible). Guidance did not support the revised hierarchy, or the Abercrombie idea of standards per 1000 population which had been its predecessor. Guidance only stated that: ‘it is for each borough to decide the appropriate provision of local open space and to identify and make proposals in the (Unitary Development Plan UDP) for such spaces.’ Green Chains were highlighted in both Guidance and Advice. The latter stated that: The interlinking of open spaces, footpaths, rivers, canals, bridleways and disused railways is of structural, recreation and nature conservation importance. A Green Chain has already been designated and is being implemented in South East London. The Committee would like to see the extension of this concept throughout London. Advice recommended that the UDPs should: ‘Set out policies ... together with costed and programmed proposals, following consultations between relevant groups of boroughs.’ This was clear advice. The DOE’s Guidance on Green Chains must be quoted in full, because no one is clear what it means: "in some cases areas of open land link together across borough boundaries to form ‘green chains’. These can play a useful part in the urban environment by providing extended pathways for public and wildlife corridors in natural surroundings. In preparing open land policies, boroughs are urged to consider the valuable role of green chains, consulting with neighbouring planning authorities as appropriate".
This ‘guidance’ can be interpreted in several ways:
(a) a chain of open land, like St James’s Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in Central London;
(b) a pathway, running through open land and urban areas, to create a long distance link, like the existing South London Green Chain Walk;
(c) a wildlife corridor with no public access, like a railway embankment; and
(d) a linear park, like the existing Parkland Walk in North London.