A new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warns that the UK Government’s plans to relax Green Belt boundaries would be harmful to countryside, and could worsen the country’s housing crisis.
‘Green Belt’ is a planning designation which refers to undeveloped or agricultural land surrounding urban areas, including many of the UK’s largest and most historic towns and cities. It is designated with the aim of protecting such land from development, but the UK Government has announced plans to relax Green Belt boundaries and release some land from this designation, to allow it to accommodate up to 460,000 new homes.
According to the CPRE, the government is undertaking a ‘strategic shrinking’ of Green Belt land to avoid contending with its protected status. The UK is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and the building of new homes on former Green Belt land is one manner in which the government aims to address this, but according to the CPRE’s report, the proposal will make the problem worse.
How could the government’s plan worsen the housing crisis?
The CPRE report that 72% of homes built on greenfield land in 2017 did not meet the government’s own criteria for affordability, and with the addition of 460,000 new homes, this could rise to as much as 78%. A complicating factor is the fact that in many areas, targets for newly built homes have increased, meaning that local governments will continue to relax Green Belt boundaries to provide land for these developments.
This need not be the case, as the report estimates that there is enough brownfield land – that is, land that has previously been developed – in England to accommodate the building of 1 million homes, including 720,000 homes in areas where Green Belt land might be under threat.
Why is the CPRE concerned about building new houses on Green Belt land?
Tom Fyans, of the CPRE, warned that the UK government must recommit to protect Green Belt land, and find a more effective method to address the country’s shortage of affordable housing. He said: “We are being sold a lie by many developers. As they sell off and gobble up the Green Belt to build low density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live… Far from providing the solution, building on the Green Belt only serves to entrench the issue.”
He added: “The government is failing in its commitment to protect the Green Belt – it is being eroded at an alarming rate. But it is essential, if the Green Belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and Green Belt protection strengthened.”