The consensus for green belt reform is growing – so too is the pressure for Government to act

Politicians and campaigners from across the political spectrum are coming together to push for changes to green belt policies

Garages on scrublands, old industrial land, roadside verges and empty spaces – these are the kinds of places most people would agree could be better used for housing.

That’s especially the case around London, with its high housing prices and housing shortages – yet locations such as these are protected as part of the city’s green belt, making it impossible to build housing on them. This is despite that fact that these sites are a far cry from the rolling countryside and parkland most people think that green belt restrictions are in place to protect.

That’s why Centre for Cities has come together with Siobhain McDonagh MP, and 60 other signatories from across the political spectrum, to submit an open letter today calling for reform of  green belt restrictions (this is also is part of a joint submission to the Government’s consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework).

Specifically, the letter called for green belt land that’s within 1km of train and tube stations and 45 minutes away from Zone 1 London to be released for new homes. We reckon this could supply enough land to build 1 million homes, more than enough for London’s needs over the next ten years.

Our 2014 report  Building Homes Where We Need Them gives an idea of just how much land near to existing infrastructure is available on the capital’s green belt, using a slightly different geography (2km rather than 1km, and including some stations that are further away than 45 minutes from Zone 1):

Opportunities for new homes in London

Releasing some land in these areas would help address the fundamental problem underpinning the housing crisis in successful cities such as London: supply. For years our cities have not been able to release enough land to accommodate their population and economic growth. This shortage has pushed the average house price in London up to almost 17 times local incomes – compared to five and a half times local incomes in Liverpool, for example – despite London’s higher wages.

Moreover, the green belt does not just restrict housing supply around London, it also results in housing development leapfrogging the green belt, and being built in areas far away from London – as demonstrated by the map below from our recent City Space Race report. That means longer commutes for people working in London, and it’s also bad news for the environment, as it results in more carbon-intensive journeys into the capital each day.

Net additional house built, by local authority

What needs to change

The reality is that releasing more land in or near London where we can build more homes is the only way we can tackle the capital’s housing shortage, and this is exactly what our joint letter proposes.

Crucially, it also suggests releasing new land in the right places. Land next to train and tube stations is exceptionally valuable, especially that on lines heading into London. If we allowed people rather than bushes to live in these areas closer to the city, we’d be able to minimise new infrastructure costs and commuting by car. In combination, we could make housing more affordable, support economic growth in high demand cities, and help the climate from reduced future carbon emissions.

The growing movement for green belt reform

What is striking is just how wide the coalition of groups and individuals in favour of green belt reform is. Signatories include MPs from both sides of the chamber, social housing associations including Clarion and Peabody, ‘neoliberal’ think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute, housing campaigning groups PricedOut and London YIMBY, and business groups such as the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Many of these groups hold vastly different political outlooks, but all agree that existing green belt restrictions are inflexible and out of date. In other words, there is growing consensus across the political spectrum that these policies need to change.

It’s right that precious and exceptional countryside should be protected, and other solutions will also be needed to address London’s housing crisis, such as increasing density. But as our cities grow and change it’s also right that we allow some green belt land – especially those areas in which there is very little green to be seen – to become new communities for families and new neighbours. More and more people across society agree that reforms to the green belt are urgently needed – and the political pressure for the Government to act on these concerns is only likely to grow.

Centre for Cities has also responded to the National Planning Policy Framework in its own right and will publish details of the submission in the coming week.

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Marjory MacLaren
17 June 2018 14:30

I hope that this idea is not just for the benefit of London - I live in Glasgow and the lack of housing for disabled people is a total disgrace - as it is for most of the UK. Much more needs to be done to address this appalling situation. Please don't try and fob me off by saying that this is a matter for the Scottish Government as we all know that they are not up to the job - so it really is something that has to be tackled from central government in order to get things moving. It seems that most of the people involved at your end are more likely to only be interested in building on green belt land for the profits that they could make out of such schemes - which, although it is not illegal, is actually contrary to the needs of most of the people throughout the UK. Most of us are needing affordable council housing but the developers, understandably, don't want to build those types of properties and don't wish to become social landlords but this is exactly what is needed - mainly because the greatest proportion of the people who populate the UK will never be in a position to afford to buy their own homes - and the cost to the government of subsidising the rents that people pay to private landlords is far too much. I can't understand why any government would wish to pay private landlords when, in the long run it would be far cheaper for the government to provide the housing that is needed at a far more reasonable rent and, at the end of the day the government would be asset-rich and quids in at the same time, eventually. To me, as a logical-thinking person, it makes perfect sense for the government to be in charge of social housing throughout the UK - yes, radical or what. So why don't you spend some time lobbying government about such things as it makes better economic sense. As for building on green belt land I think that it would be better to use up the brown field sites first and to legislate to make sure that there is much less land-banking so that profiteers are not allowed to hold on to land for years, refusing to build on it until the price of houses goes up - they are causing the lack of land on which we can build, plus pushing up prices to the point that many people cannot even get on to the housing ladder anymore and helping to cause the economic downturns that have occurred over the last few decades.


Anthony Breach
29 June 2018 17:10

Planning policy for Scotland is set by the Scottish Government - as I understand it, Holyrood is where the decision makers for Scotland's green belt policy are. More social housing paid for by the public sector can work and has done in the past, if you are prepared to argue for local government funding and finance reform to raise the money to pay for new supply and maintenance. But more social housing is completely compatible with a better-working private housing market, which would require green belt reform, among other proposals which can be found here: Currently the great proportion of the UK's population already own their homes. The housing crisis is a consequence of the rest of the population facing high housing costs in UK cities with strong economies thanks to decades of undersupply, in large part due to the green belt.

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