As the housing crisis in Britain seems to deepen, with less homes being built some commentators are blaming the government’s Green Belt policies for strangling new developments around London, saying they have one aim “to keep the urban unwashed out of the Home Counties.”
According to research carried out by the London School of Economics, development in Britain has been stunted by “decades of planning policies that constrain the supply of houses and land.”
Leader of the study Paul Cheshire, the professor emeritus of economic geography at the London School of Economics, said that government green belt policies have been getting in the way of development for years.
He said, “policy has been actively preventing houses from being built where they are most needed or most wanted.”
House building has decreased significantly over the last decade, and as a result the demand for houses has rocketed. Current house prices, particularly in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other large urban centres reflect this demand.
The lack of development, says Cheshire, has turned “houses and housing land into something like gold or artworks – assets for which there is an underlying consumption demand but which is more or less fixed supply.”
The Town and Country Planning Act in 1947, was the start of local authorities taking Green Belts into consideration when considering their town plans. By the 1950s, the first green belts had been designated. Today, more than 1.6 million hectares are designated as green belt, with 13% of the total land area of England being included in that amount.
Restricting the amount of building work on green belt land has meant a halt to urban sprawling, which supporters say has meant an improvement in the quality of life for both rural and urban communities. Various groups, most notable the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have placed continuous pressure on UK governments to ensure that green belts remain development free.
The positives of green belts appear to be lost on Paul Cheshire however. He believes that instead of being environmentally friendly, green belts are home to intensive farms “which generate negative net environmental benefits”. He believes that there is more biodiversity in an urban park or garden then on green belt land.
The belief that they provide a rural escape for those living in city environments has also been dismissed by the study, which argues that many urban dwellers have “little or no access to green belt land.”
The only development being done on green belt land is for golf courses, says Cheshire. He argues that green belts are “a very British form of discriminatory zoning, keeping the urban unwashed out of the Home Counties.”
The study concluded that it would only take a modest amount of green belt land “to provide more than enough land for housing for generations to come.” There is enough green belt around Greater London to provide 1.6 million new homes.
The LSE’s findings will naturally split opinion. With more and more of us needing homes, and less and less urban space available to build them, is it inevitable that we will be forced to turn to green belt land?
If we want to create a Britain where citizens have access to affordable, high quality housing, then are we destined to have to build in rural areas?