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Of course it’s really about many more issues that just housing targets because housing and Green Belt policies affect us all in the way it impacts on the economy and success of London and the South East. The Green Belt was designed to be just that - a belt that can be adjusted and not a strait jacket. The original concept was never intended to stop all growth entirely.
Did you know?
• 9% of England is developed
• 13% of England is green belt
• Green belts have more than doubled in size since 1979 to 1.6m hectares (3,953,686 acres)
The Planning Inspector examining the Further Alterations to the London Plan recently concluded that whilst finding the Plan sound he did so on the understanding there will be an urgent review to determine how the 6,000 homes that London cannot provide each year will be met. He refers to the need for the Mayor of London to engage positively with the local authorities surrounding London to examine how these homes can be accommodated. He specifically concludes that London can no longer ‘consume its own smoke’.
As the London Society’s research report ‘Green Sprawl’ noted ‘Whilst green belt policy can’t be seen in isolation from far greater issues than purely London’s current requirement for 1 million new homes, such development over the next 15 years is deliverable without impacting too significantly upon the overall size of the city’s green belt. If anything, airport expansion and CrossRails 1, 2 and 3 create a real opportunity for this growth to be plan-led and sustainable’.
Indeed one of the Adam Smith’s Institute’s research findings is that London’s housing crisis could be greatly eased by building one million new homes on just 3.7% of the intensively farmed agricultural land within the Green Belt that is within a 10 minute walk of a train station and therefore with easy access to central London.
Whilst we all recognise a review of the Green Belt won’t happen in the run-up to the general election it will need to be a priority for whichever Party comes to power, as part of the call by the ‘Homes for Britain’ campaign for any new government to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation.
The obvious conclusion from these reports is the need to look urgently at Green Belt designations in the outer London Boroughs and Districts adjoining the metropolitan area. Without a comprehensive and strategic review of the purpose of the Green Belt for the next 25 years, development pressures that cannot be met on brownfield sites or within London itself, will continue to leap frog the Green Belt as they have in the past, increasing unsustainable journey to work patterns to support London, increasing commuting costs and in many cases taking green field sites which whilst not Green Belt, are often far more attractive landscapes and countryside than the Green Belt alternatives. Indeed, 37% of London’s Green Belt is intensively farmed agricultural land with limited public access or benefit for the wider community.
Irrespective of how we choose to move forward the essential position remains the same. Whilst the Green Belt has always protected important open space between settlements, it must remain a flexible concept that responds to the opportunities and challenges we face. In 2015 we need to undertake a rational analysis and set out a clear direction if we are serious about tackling the housing crisis.
Mike Lambert, Planning Director
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