Property Week’s recent opinion poll on the merits of releasing Green Belt land for housing (04 September 2015) was – not surprisingly – thought provoking.
The industry has been calling for a revised position on the Green Belt for years. The poll serves as a useful reminder of a growing disparity between realistic solutions to the housing crisis and Government policy.
74 per cent of Property Week’s respondents suggested restrictions should be relaxed to some degree. I would suggest this doesn’t go far enough. The factors restricting development delivery in this country are as much about perception as they are policy. Any relaxation of rules should be accompanied with an honest message about why certain areas of land are suitable for development – because the social, economic and moral arguments for housing our population far outweigh the often limited environmental value of many of these sites. Likewise, this has to be about a long-term approach. We need to recognise that any relaxation will be a short-term realignment before looking ahead to how we can plan more productively in the future.
To the 46 per cent of Property Week’s readers that feel there should be penalties for councils that fail to deliver the required number of homes, I say caution is required. Under-resourced councils have been left out in the cold for far too long and a more conciliatory approach is necessary. By all means let’s flag up those cynical authorities making no effort to get a plan in place. But let’s also look to incentivise and reward local authorities, either financially or through other means, to ensure they also see the benefit of a positive approach to development.
I am not convinced that the Government is best placed to pick the right areas for growth, or to commission and build homes. This is a crisis of decision making and perception. By all means impose direction – we need it – but empower Local Authorities to deliver it.
Finally, and most importantly, let’s stop referring to this as ‘the Green Belt debate’ – this simply polarises the discussion around ‘green’ or ‘not green’, playing into the hands of misinformed NIMBYs. This is about finding a long-term solution to housing our population and we can’t afford to get distracted from that.