A quick way to stir up a stramash about new housing development is to suggest that building on the green belt is a good idea. At the same time, most people now acknowledge that we’re in the midst of a long-term housing crisis. With average house prices standing at more than 10 times the average salary, we need to do something decisive.
One of the main barriers to creating enough new homes is the scarcity of suitable land. The use of targeted sections of the green belt could potentially be one way to address the issue. How much do most of us really know about these heavily protected areas? Here are some facts:
- 13% of England’s land area is covered by Green Belt.
- 6.8% of the UK’s land is classified as ‘urban’ .
- ‘Urban’ does not always mean built on. Of that 6.8%, just over half the land (54%) in our towns and cities is green space - parks, allotments, sports pitches etc. Domestic gardens account for another 18% of urban land use; rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs an additional 6.6%. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096
- Green Belt legislation was put in place by the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and most of the 13 designated areas have changed little since they were created.
- Designation as green belt doesn’t necessarily signify that land has special qualities; its identifying features are that it is undeveloped and borders an urban area.
- The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 stipulates that local planning authorities should plan “positively to enhance the beneficial use of the Green Belt, such as looking for opportunities to provide access; to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation; to retain and enhance landscapes, visual amenity and biodiversity; or to improve damaged and derelict land.”
- However only 3.9% of the Green Belt is open access land, which is 7% of the total open access land in Britain. 65% of all Green Belt land is currently in agricultural use. 18% of Green Belt land in England is classed as ‘neglected’. In our region, 59% of the Avon Green Belt is classed as ‘neglected’. See 'Green Belts in England' for more data.
- The green belt has achieved its aim of preventing ribbon development and the expansion of some of our towns and cities. However this has forced property prices up in central urban areas.
- Consequently we have seen the creation of satellite towns beyond the green belt where homes are more affordable, and a daily flow of commuter traffic as residents travel between home and work.
- The population of the UK measured by the 1951 census, around the time the green belt was established, was just over 41 million. By 2012 this had grown to 67 million, and is still rising. The current rates of new house building mean we face a shortfall of 125,000 homes every year.
We need to decide whether the benefits of preserving the Green Belt still outweigh the need to create affordable housing for local families. Before we start that discussion, it’s important that we know the facts and really understand the nature of the land we’re so zealously protecting.
Let’s have a proper, well-informed debate, and talk about whether it’s time to look again at this legislation which, in my view, is no longer serving our country well.
Gerraint Oakley, Managing Director Curo Homes