Getting up the Numbers – Is Green Belt Policy Fit for Purpose?

The article below is taken from June’s Housebuilder magazine.

Stephen Byfield, partner at Newgate Communications, bemoans the fact that green belt policy, a 70 year old system of land management, is still dictating what is built where in the UK.

I found myself involved in a very interesting discussion this month on the provision of social housing.

Specifically, we were talking about Bristol, where a forward-thinking local authority is using all the levers at its disposal to transform the annual rate of housebuilding in the city and increase fourfold the number of social housing units being provided in just a few short years.

The Council is adopting many of the approaches pioneered in London – partnerships with the private sector, the use of grant to pump prime social housing provision on developer-led sites and building its own new council houses.   By far the most effective tool the Council can deploy is its land, well over 100 hectares, that is being brought forward for new homes.

Eventually, and inevitably, though the conversation turned to Green Belt.   Bristol like so many cities is constrained by its Green Belt and control over that Green Belt is exercised by politicians in rural authorities most of whom have no interest in seeing the City grow.

The Bristol and Bath Green Belt was established in the mid-1950s just after the end of rationing, at the height of the Cold War and before Elvis Presley had swayed a hip in anger.   It was designed for the economy of its day.   I wonder if there are any other parts of our essential infrastructure that rely on a framework established seventy years ago.   Imagine if we still used the telephone system of the 1950s?   To call me to complain about this article would involve you placing the call via an operator.   Direct dialling, digitisation, mobile telephones, the internet and smart phones would all be impossible.

Yet we rely on a system of land management that is seventy years old even though our population has increased by nine million people and our economy is more than twice as large.

Many good things are happening in local authorities up and down the country.    Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell deserve plaudits for the pragmatic approach they are encouraging to getting more homes built; though whether either will still be in place when you get to read this article remains to be seen.   But until someone seriously grasps the nettle of Green Belt policy in this country we will never build enough of the homes we need, in the places they are needed, to properly tackle the undersupply issues we face.


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