Centre for Cities sets out plans for a radical overhaul of the green belt and one thousand new ‘commuter villages’

Plans to deliver more than two million homes with easy access to urban jobs

Releasing green belt around more than one thousand existing commuter stations would allow more than two million climate-friendly homes with good infrastructure to be built.

Press release published on 22 September 2019

Plans to deliver more than two million homes with easy access to urban jobs

  • Land within walking distance of existing commuter stations should be developed to boost number of homes by almost 10%.
  • Development profits should be invested in rail infrastructure and social housing.
  • Also calls for the replacement of Section 106 Agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Releasing green belt around more than one thousand existing commuter stations would allow more than two million climate-friendly homes with good infrastructure to be built according to a new Centre for Cities report authored by the LSE’s Professor Paul Cheshire and UCL’s Boyana Buyuklieva.

The report, Homes on the right tracks: Greening the Green Belt to solve the housing crisis, calls for the development of 47,000 hectares of green belt and farm land within a ten-minute walk of 1035 train stations close to major cities.

This would be the most radical redrawing of the green belt since its establishment and would deliver up to 2.1 million new homes – more than have been built in the last 15 years. Crucially the new homes would be within 45 minutes by train of jobs in the large cities of London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle.

In figures: Where new commuter villages could be built

City Number of potential commuter stations to be developed in the city region Potential number of new homes Potential revenue raised from development
Birmingham 116 260,340 £10.1bn
Bristol 36 68,950 £3.7bn
London 567 1,114,500 £82.5bn
Manchester 242 494,000 £15.0bn
Newcastle 74 171,250 £4.5bn


Unlike current developments in many rural parts of the country, these homes would be within a ten minute walk of an existing train station. This would reduce commuters’ reliance on cars and shrink their carbon footprint.  It would also let them have substantially shorter journeys than the increasingly common ultra-long commutes of 350 km a day as people jump over the existing Green Belts to find homes they can afford.

The report also calls for the abolition of Section 106 Agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy and their replacement with a new simpler and transparent Land Development Charge. If set at 20% of the new homes as they were sold, it would raise around £100 billion to be spent on supporting infrastructure and social housing.  But it would have the attraction of being paid for ultimately out of land prices so not increase the price of homes.

The report also recommends giving the new rights to develop to commercial development companies owned by the rail operators such as National Rail or Transport for London. The profits from this could replace taxpayer subsidy to the railways instead of generating windfall gains for lucky land owners.

While the plans set out in the report would affect just 1.8% of the existing green belt, they increase the number of homes in Britain by almost 10%. National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and all land generating public benefit would remain exempt from development under these plans.

Paul Cheshire CBE, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, said:

“We need to protect cherished land for public benefit but that is not the purpose of Green Belt designation. It is simply to have empty spaces between cities and prevent development. The land does not need to be ‘green’ – most is privately owned and the biggest use of it is for intensive agriculture.

“Our housing crisis is corroding social trust and causing serious inequality as well as economic inefficiencies as people cannot find affordable homes in places they want to live. It is time to use land for its best social purpose: not to remain fenced in by inflexible boundaries imposed in 1955. These proposals align incentives to use our land for genuine public benefit while reducing our carbon footprint as well as funding needed infrastructure and social housing.”

Andrew Carter, Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive, said:

“We often talk about the need to build 300,000 new homes a year to tackle the housing crisis. But less often do we talk about where in the country these homes need to be built to make a difference.

“Housing provision should follow where people need to live for work. This means building in and around larger cities with lots of jobs. Using existing commuter infrastructure as a base to deliver accessible new homes near our biggest cities could be the simplest way to do this – but it will require political will and compromise on the greenbelt.”

“If these new homes are delivered close to where they are needed near big cities then they will have access to workers to grow their economies and raise local productivity. But if we continue to stall on this then our biggest cities, and the millions of people living in them, will soon pay a big economic price.


Notes to Editors

For the purposes of this report, a city-region is defined as somewhere that can be reached in 45 minutes or fewer.

About the Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies.
  • We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.
  • For more information, please visit www.centreforcities.org/about

About Professor Paul Cheshire CBE

  • Paul Cheshire is Professor and Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics.
  • He has published extensively, especially on urban growth in Europe, urban land markets and the economic effects of land use planning. He is the author/editor of 12 books including Urban Economics and Urban Policy: Challenging Conventional Policy Wisdom (2014) and more than a 100 journal articles.
  • He has acted as consultant to several UK government departments, as well as international organisations including the European Commission, the New Zealand Productivity Commission on land use and housing, the OECD, the UN and the World Bank.
  • He was an advisor to both Barker reviews of planning and to the Eddington Commission’s enquiry into transport infrastructure. He was a Board member of the National Housing and Planning Advisory Unit.
  • He was a long-term member of the DCLG’s Planning Sounding Board and of the ULI’s UK Executive committee.
  • He is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Weimer Fellow.
  • He won the Royal Economic Society’s Best Paper prize in the Economic Journal for 2004 and the EIB-ERSA Prize in 2009.
  • In 2017 he was awarded a CBE for services to economics and housing.

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