Applications to build houses on the Green Belt have risen to a record 460,000 as of June 2018, described by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) as a ‘strategic shrinking’ of protected countryside.
The charity’s annual ‘State of the Green Belt’ report for 2018 shows that the houses are planned for land soon to be released from the Green Belt through boundary changes – and warns that this release of land looks set to continue, as one third of local authorities with Green Belt land face an increase in housing targets due to a new method for calculating housing demand.
Research by Heriott-Watt University for homelessness charity Crisis and the National Housing Federation has suggested that England will need 340,000 new homes every year until 2031 in order to catch up with a huge housing shortfall. 145,000 of these must be affordable, according to the research, a huge rise in previous estimates of 78,000. Yet CPRE says that 78 per cent of the planned 460,000 homes will not be affordable by the government’s own definition, giving lie to the idea that more housing equates to more people on the housing ladder.
Tom Fyans, CPRE’s Director of Campaigns and Policy, stated: “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. The affordable housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency, while acknowledging that far from providing the solution, building on the Green Belt only serves to entrench the issue.
“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.”
CPRE says that there is enough brownfield (disused or derelict) land in England for over one million homes to be built – and that all of this should be redeveloped before any more greenfield (never built on) land is released from the Green Belt.
A government spokesperson stated that Green Belt land is only released in “exceptional circumstances once they have looked at all other options.” However, following a consultation on proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework, the government has admitted that Green Belt principles may need to be ‘re-evalutated in a 21st century context’. It was announced on 5 March that ‘loss of land from the Green Belt should be off-set by means of compensatory improvements to environmental quality and access on remaining Green Belt land.’
Writing for iNews on 6 August, Green Party Co-leader Jonathan Bartley expressed his disappointment at the news, saying: ‘Developers are carving up our countryside to build homes normal families can’t even afford – and the government is letting them get away with it.’
Adding to CPRE’s comments about brownfield sites, he noted that ‘taking action on empty homes could bring [an] estimated 205,293 vacant properties back into use.’ The Green Party is also calling for a land value tax (LVT), an annual charge payable on the value of land (disregarding all buildings and works on the land) which would encourage the use of vacant land as well as resulting in a more equitable tax system than the current council tax model.
Bartley continued: ‘The Green Belt covers 12.5 per cent of England and hosts one-fifth of England’s public footpaths. Building on this land not only robs us of a precious natural asset, but it will also never solve the housing crisis. It’s time ministers gave this land the real protection it deserves.’