Some interesting research came to our attention recently, research that might help to explain (in part) why there is such a dearth of housing supply at the moment. A survey revealed that the number of homes built on the Green Belt surrounding towns and cities has halved over the past 20 years.
Since 1995 it’s estimated that some 96,000 new homes have been built on the Green Belt, which adds up to roughly 3.5% of the 2.7 million properties built in England between 1995 and 2015. Since the early 2000s the amount of new homes built on the Green Belt each year has halved, dropping from 6,700 homes in 2001 to 3,248 in 2014.
The slowdown is put into even sharper relief when you look at last year’s figures – only 3,250 homes (just 3% of all homes) were built in the Green Belt, down on both 2013 and on the long-term average.
None of this is exactly surprising. It’s very difficult to get permission to build on the Green Belt, because development is generally prohibited. Only a small number of homes are allowed to be built within this area each year.
However, developments on the Green Belt probably wouldn’t match with people’s preconceptions. It’s not a case of destroying picturesque countryside or concreting over a remote field in Devon or Dorset, the sites that are being developed in the Green Belt are either brownfield, infill schemes or unused land with little amenity value.
Like with anything else, developing these sites doesn’t come without its own set of problems. There are pros and cons to regenerating brownfield sites or redeveloping infill schemes – principally, they can be costly and time-consuming – but they are one possible way of narrowing the huge gap between supply and demand.
Bringing empty homes back into use – existing properties that have either fallen into disrepair or are just being left vacant by investors eager to see its value rise – would be another possible way of solving the housing shortage, as would speeding up the planning permission process and forcing developers to build on land that they are currently sitting on.
While none of these measures will solve the housing crisis on their own, they will relieve the pressure on the need for more homes. If the country doesn’t need to build as many new homes, because existing properties can be brought back into use, then the targets will be easier to meet. This doesn’t eradicate the need for new homes to be built but it would help to lighten the load, as it were.
As we’ve all read about frequently, we’ve failed to build enough new homes for decades. A multi-pronged approach, with the measures we’ve outlined above as well as a fully funded, well-regulated housebuilding programme, would go some way to improving matters.
In future years it is also expected that more homes will be built on the Green Belt again. Pressure for more houses, particularly from London and the South East (where a lack of supply is especially stark), and government plans to take a stronger stance on local authorities are expected to lead this drive upwards. It is believed that returning to the amount of development that was seen on the Green Belt in the early 2000s will produce an extra 5,000 homes a year. By no means a solution to the supply issue, but a start nonetheless.
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