The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals is urgently drawing up a series of town and country planning guidelines to cope with potential conflicts thatcould be caused by the need for new buildings as student numbers rise.
Treetop protesters and modern Digger movements have not yet settled on university campuses. But rapid university expansion could mean conflict unless building programmes can be accommodated alongside the demand of local communities for open space, especially in green belts.
Universities particularly affect- ed are the Robbins generation, which were given greenfield sites, and the new universities, which are looking to find more space or rationalise scattered campuses.
Until this year, it had been possible for these universities to argue that Government green-belt policy made allowances for "institutions standing in extensive grounds". New guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment have closed this loophole, but intervention from the Department for Education has meant that tough recommendations in last year's DoE research report, The Effectiveness of Green Belts, which regarded this exception as "outdated, inappropriate to green belt and subject to problems of definition", have not been implemented in full.
Tim Boswell, minister for further and higher education, said that the new planning policy guidance "signals to local authorities that where institutions are located in or adjacent to green belts, need to expand, and cannot reasonably do so outside the green belt, their needs could justify taking land out of the green belt".
Derek Stroud, CVCP consultant, who is drawing up the new guidelines, said the changed guidance note is significant because it marks the first time further and higher education institutions have been acknowledged in a planning policy document. But, he said: "It remains to be seen what this general document means for particular universities because it still depends on whether local authorities are minded to be positive."