The Green Belt: help or hindrance?

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has this week released figures that show over a quarter of a million homes are set to be built on Green Belt land, according to adopted or advanced local plans. Based on the organisation’s rhetoric, it is clear on which side of the fence it sits. With the current housing shortage, however, is there much that can be done without making use of the Green Belt, many boundaries of which were set decades ago?

The organisation has criticised the Government for saying it will protect Green Belt land while at the same time overseeing a significant increase in the number of new homes set to be built on it. The figures show that 274,792 homes, according to adopted or advanced local plans, are set to be built on protected land around towns and cities, up by around 50,000 from March 2015. The 274,792 figure includes 19,041 in the North West, up by around 61% from the previous year, the largest increase the UK.

Paul Miner, CPRE’s planning campaign manager, says that: “To build the affordable homes young people and families need, the Government should empower councils to prioritise the use of brownfield sites.” While not setting an official target, the Government has said it wants to create a million new homes by 2020 – the same amount the CPRE says is available on brownfield land. The Government is clearly looking to develop brownfield land, and has even said it will do it itself if necessary. In addition, an initiative has also been announced where the Homes and Communities Agency will work with Network Rail and local authorities to find suitable sites around railway stations.

Having available brownfield land, however, is only one piece of the puzzle; any number of factors can make a plot of land economically unsuitable for development, at least for the time being, and ultimately, the severe housing shortage has left many developers and housebuilders caught between a rock and a hard place: to build homes quickly and in the right place, but also to make profits – which will ultimately be invested in building more homes.

While many people, developers included, would want to retain as much Green Belt land as possible, a balance must be struck to deliver the houses we need. In addition, much of Green Belt land isn’t as green as it would seem, such as derelict school sites. Early engagement from housebuilders, developers, and even councils, provides the opportunity to explain the rationale and benefits of any sites in question. With the pressure to build new homes likely to increase over the coming years, it is important to get the message across that if we are to meet this need, then Green Belt land will have to play its part and engagement from councils, developers, and housebuilders alike can help to change people’s perspectives on the Green Belt, of at least the bit closest to them.

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