Pressure Mounts to Release Green Belt for New Homes

Sam Bowman, research director at the Adam Smith Institute recently stated that, "by rolling back the green belt by just one mile around London, we would have space for one million new homes"....

Sam Bowman, research director at the Adam Smith Institute recently stated that, "by rolling back the green belt by just one mile around London, we would have space for one million new homes".

Planning restrictions on land surrounding cities can be traced back in history. In fact, the first green belt around London was ordered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1580 on the basis that a three-mile wide belt would stop the spread of the plague.

Green belt is subject to different considerations in modern times and is aimed at protecting cities from urban sprawl whilst also protecting the 'green and pleasant land' Britain is famous for.

The policy dates back to the 1930's when the Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed the Metropolitan Green Belt around London. However, it was not until 1947 when the Town and Country Planning Act allowed the local authorities to include green belts in their town plans, while the first green belts were not designated until the 1950's.

Green belt covers 13% of UK land - is it worth protecting?

Today, more than 1.6 million hectares are designated as green belt land in England, covering about 13% of the total land area while in Northern Ireland 16% of land is green belt, Scotland 2% and Wales, with just one green belt zone less than 1%.

However, with mounting pressure to take action on the critical housing supply shortage, the government are now being bombarded with calls to release a proportion of green belt in favour of building more homes.

David Cameron, a former crusader for the green belt cause once said that, "he would no more risk the green belt than risk his own family". He has since had a change in heart stating towards the end of last year that "building on the green belt would make life better for people by helping them onto the housing ladder".

Although it is preferable to build on brownfield sites such as old hospitals or factories, there simply aren't enough sites to go around, particularly in London and the South East where the population is rising fastest. The arguments against developing green belt diminish by the day as they are eradicated by the logical plus points for doing so:

Green belts restrict supply and keep property prices high.
Current green belt policy restricts building for the foreseeable future resulting in premiums being paid for properties in adjacent areas. This is illustrated in Oxford, London and Cambridge where property prices are amongst the highest nationally.

The environmental and amenity value of green belt is exaggerated.
With around 80% of British land remaining undeveloped and just 13% of the total land area protected as green belt, a degree of urban sprawl can easily be tolerated without upsetting the eco-balance.

Developing green belt will reduce housing density in cities.
A large proportion of British families are living in overcrowded homes which places a greater strain on infrastructure in towns and cities while draining local authority budgets.

Strong green belts do not deliver housing in areas people want to live in.
Restrictions on developing green belt forces buyers out to more rural locations which results in longer commutes for work and a higher cost of living.

Green belts increase housing volatility.
Until the recession, average house price volatility in the UK was higher than the most volatile single market in the US (Los Angeles) - largely due to zoning restrictions on planning, particularly on green belt.

Green belt lowers retail productivity.
A report in 2011 showed that a leading supermarket chain had reduced productivity by at least 20% as a result of planning restrictions and 'town centre first' policies.

The majority opinion appears to be that it would not be damaging to the landscape, environment or the economy to release at least some green belt for development, allowing sufficient urban sprawl to deliver homes to those that urgently need them.



- Wednesday 21 May 2014

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