Why the green belt is set to see many more homes

Why the green belt is set to see many more homes

With more than 360,000 new properties proposed for green belt land, online estate agency Tepilo takes a closer look at this most divisive of housing issues.

One of the most divisive and controversial topics when it comes to housebuilding is the green belt and whether any new housing should be built on it.

In one corner, developers, town planners and the government say housing will have to be built on the green belt at some point in order to satisfy increased demand. They point to the overcrowding in urban areas and insist that homes must be built elsewhere.

This, however, is a serious bone of contention with countrywide campaigners, who are insistent that green spaces must be protected all costs. They fear that the government, under pressure to meet tough housebuilding targets, are planning to water down green belt protection, precipitating a free-for-all among housing developers and builders across the country.   

According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the number of homes proposed on green belt land in England has risen from just 81,000 in 2012 to 362,346 today. These homes, set to be built on land that is supposed to protect urban sprawl, will predominantly be located in the north-west and east of England.

The green belt areas that are set to be built on include open fields owned by University of Oxford colleges Magdalene and Brasenose, as well as sites close to the New Forest.

Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, is set to launch a new national housing policy in the next few weeks, and green belt campaigners have been left concerned by the praise he recently meted out to Birmingham city council for allowing housebuilding on green belt land. That said, in the past Javid has described the green belt as “absolutely sacrosanct”.

The green belt land most at risk, however, surrounds Manchester. Planners, eager to build 50,000 new homes, have identified thousands of hectares of land to make this ambition possible. Andy Burnham, a frontrunner for the position of mayor of Manchester and a former Shadow Home Secretary, has warned that such extensive development could “diminish quality of life in some communities and restrict people’s access to good air and green space”.

On an annual basis, the number of homes granted planning permission for the green belt has risen substantially in recent years, up from 2,258 in 2009-10 to 11,977 in 2014-15. Meanwhile, between 2004 and 2014-15, the net loss of green belt amounts to 41,570 hectares (103,000 acres).

The government has a target to build 250,000 new homes a year, but it is struggling badly – and has been struggling for a while – to reach that target. As such, the supply of new homes is reliant on the release of green belt land where possible. However, it’s a highly sensitive political issue, not least because many Conservative MPs represent constituencies with high levels of green belt land and, more pertinently, the protection of green belt land is a key part of the party’s manifesto.

Nevertheless, they find themselves in a dilemma, because the government has also made increasing home ownership and tackling the housing crisis another of its main pledges. They are, therefore, in somewhat of a Catch 22 situation – build on the green belt and they risk angering constituents and voters; don’t build on the green belt and already ambitious housebuilding targets become much, much more difficult to achieve, while also annoying those who are struggling to rent or buy.

Environmentalists and organisations such as CPRE say building on the green belt causes blights on England’s naturally beautiful landscape. On the other side of the coin, housebuilding firms and planners argue that the increase in homes being built on the green belt is still only very small when looked at in a wider context, and insist that only a small fraction of the country is actually urbanised.

It is a contentious issue which hugely divides opinion, in the same way as fracking and HS2, pitting campaigners and developers against each other in what can often be bitter, long drawn-out disputes.

The government certainly has a tricky balancing act to perform, treading a fine line between keeping green belt enthusiasts and campaign groups happy while also increasing the available supply of new homes, as promised in its manifesto.