The age old debate rages on – why should the Green Belt make room for future development when government policies have historically been put in place to protect it?
The answer? This depends on which one of these statements you agree with:
1. There is no housing crisis.
2. There is a housing crisis.
The Government has previously stated that while the Green Belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, councils can review local designations to promote growth. Councils are actively encouraged to use the flexibility set out in the NPPF to tailor the extent of Green Belt land in their local authority area to reflect local circumstances with regards to housing need. However, there are concerns amongst the Conservative grassroots that the Government are losing voters who believe that the protection of the Green Belt is being completely ignored, and that the Government is pressurising local authorities to increase housing targets when in their opinion, there is no housing shortage or insufficient land supply.
The facts cannot be ignored.
First time buyers are increasingly struggling to get on the housing ladder; the average age of first time buyers is now 40 across many parts of the Country. Many have to rely on subsidies from parents, which essentially means that only a small proportion can really afford to buy a home without help. Many more homes (and affordable homes) are needed.
There is an increasing population. This is partly down to immigration, yes, but also down to the fact that the population is ageing. Importantly, people are choosing to stay in cities with families further increasing the urban population. Do you remember the Specials single – Ghost Town? They wouldn’t write that song today.
The problem of housing need is also compounded by the fact that people are living their lives differently. Older people are staying in the family home long after the children have left. Many more people live alone these days and Englishmen and women tend to demand a castle (that is, a spacious house rather than a one bed flat), and I don’t especially criticise them for that. I wouldn’t want someone telling me to move. Whatever the reason for the increase in the demand, housing need must be quantified to ensure housing growth is realistic.
There is also simply not enough Brownfield land available. Brownfield sites which are vacant or available in places where housing demand is high are in very short supply. People forget that Brownfield sites do not just magically become available when they are needed.
The recent recession has led to many sites receiving planning permission but not having the funds to be implemented. Those who criticise so called ‘Land Banking’ should be reminded that developers are businesses. Simple as. If they are not going to be able to make a profit when they sell the houses then there is no economic sense in building them. In any case, the recent economic recovery is witnessing these sites increasingly come forward.
In London especially, these facts are heightened. Despite this increased growth, why is London the only major world city that is not expanding in land area? And at what point does the absence of an availability of family housing reduce the attractiveness of a global city?
London and the other major urban areas of England should not be left behind because housing provision is hindered by a reluctance to face facts and review the Green Belt.
These issues are explored further in an excellent article in the Guardian entitled ‘Build on the green belt to solve London’s housing crisis’ by Colin Wiles: http://gu.com/p/3jzgz