Is it time to build on the green belt?

Sunday 18 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Frobisher 5-6 Economic solutions?

All sides of the political divide agree there is a housing crisis in the UK, but also seem frustratingly short on answers. Campaigners from the Russell Brand-backed New Era Estate to free-market think-tanks assert the need for more housing, but house-building in the UK has slumped to the lowest levels since the early 1920s. Moreover, the Conservative manifesto pledge to sell off 1.3 million housing association properties under ‘right to buy’ – nominally using the cash to fund more homes – is expected to exacerbate the problem in the short term. Some call for rent controls in London to both curb the private rental sector and encourage house-building, but there is also a bigger question of where those homes should go.

Some suggest we need a radical loosening up Britain’s notoriously restrictive Town and Country Planning Act 1947, most notably in the Green Belt surrounding London: the National Housing Federation argues that freeing up one per cent of such land could provide space for 300,000 new homes. Objections to this come both from influential voices who call for the development of brownfield sites rather than paving over the countryside and from those who question whether the market can be relied upon to provide sufficient accommodation. There are concerns that without an accompanying large-scale development of transport infrastructure, loosening Green Belt restrictions would only lead to the creation of unloved suburban banlieues at the expense of precious green space outside the cities.

Is opposition to building on the Green Belt really just Nimbyism, or are there valid concerns that the policy is an ineffective quick fix to a bigger problem of demand? Do even moderate attempts to relax planning restrictions on new developments on both brownfield and Green Belt land alike threaten to cause chaos for humans and disaster for natural habitats? Are property developers and home-builders simply distracting themselves from more innovative solutions to the housing crisis, or a change in our attitudes to home ownership? Why has suburbanisation and city expansion, once heralded as the triumph of a modern city development, now become viewed with so much suspicion? Should the focus remain on providing the right kind of housing, or is the only solution to the current impasse to ‘build, build, build’?

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Dr Rupa Huq
Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton

David Orr
chief executive, National Housing Federation

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Matt Thomson
head of planning, Campaign to Protect Rural England

Jason Smith
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Jason Smith associate fellow, Academy of Ideas
Recommended readings
How to get a house

Everybody knows we urgently need to build more homes, but how, when and where will this happen? WORLDbytes interviewed Ian Abley, an architect and manager of Audacity at the plotlands in Dunton, Essex where from the 1920s East End working class couples built cheap homes themselves. Could we do this now?


Green Belt myths

Recent reports focus on weakening Green Belt protection to allow greater freedom for large housebuilders. However, the arguments within these reports are based on a highly selective reading of the relevant evidence, and give little consideration to the wide range of benefits provided by Green Belt policy. These myths urgently need to be challenged.

Campaign to Protect Rural England, August 2015

Give us the freedom to build our own homes

We need 260,000 new homes a year, and officials won’t build them.

James Heartfield, spiked, March 2015

Six reasons why we should build on the green belt

The public perception of the green belt is out of step with reality. It's not all green and pleasant land

Colin Wiles, Guardian, 21 May 2014

We must protect England's green belts

The green belts that surround our cities prevent urban sprawl, offer value as farmland and store carbon

Oliver Hilliam, Guardian, 28 July 2010

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