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Please Release Me Let Me Go
(not Tom Jones but the Green Belt!)
27 July 2017

We all know there is a housing crisis, that enough homes aren’t being built and that the problem is not going away. So why are large areas of perfectly suitable land, often the most suitable land, not being used? Because it is green belt and this is the last hiding place of the NIMBY.

Done correctly the strategic release of green belt land would go a long way to solving the housing problem in areas close to existing settlements that have clear potential to support development without any noticeable harm. Only approximately 9% of all land in the UK is developed and less than half of that is for housing. We are not the high density, over developed country most people think we are. Test any of your non-property friends over dinner and they will all get this statistic quite wrong.

In fact, many of the towns and villages where Landform is working are in dire need of new development to support underused shops, modernise services and to combat ageing populations. Some of these settlements are surprisingly close to London with good quality transport connections but local politicians seem oblivious to the economic hollowing out that is taking place around them and do not have a vision for their younger aspiring inhabitants. Perhaps there should be a new rule so that all parish council members must be less than 50 years old. I think this would go a long way.

This narrowness of view both misses the opportunity and increases the cost of housing, which especially impacts on the lower and middle-income groups, and particularly the young. The first retort from a NIMBY is to claim that green belt land is environmentally precious, high quality open countryside to be preserved at all costs. However, this is just a convenient smokescreen for them to hide their NIMBY’ism behind, as the reality is frequently quite the opposite and green belt land is often poor quality, underused backland that serves no useful purpose for anyone.

This is because green belt boundaries were established by a broad sweep of the policy brush with little or no technical assessment to inform them. This was reasonable given that their purpose was political and not environmental. However, the political dynamics have changed and many towns and villages are missing an opportunity to improve and modernise themselves, whilst the housing need remains unmet.

Because developers cannot test reluctant green belt authorities with departure applications, other than in the most exceptional of cases, this is an area where national politicians need to show some courage and force through the correct OAN and not allow delays or claims to one dubious constraint or another to limit supply. Keep what is good and use what isn’t.

I have heard some talk that following the Grenfell Tower tragedy there might be a general mood change across the country regarding housing provision, a softening perhaps of peoples’ anti-housing resolve. Unfortunately, I do not detect any widespread will to make this happen (from any of the political parties in fact) and we will have to content ourselves with a replay of Tom Jones’ plaintive cry instead!

Erik Pagano
Landform Estates Ltd.