There are too few houses for the number of people who want them. All policy makers recognise this. The question is what to do about it?
In The Guardian this week Simon Jenkins praised UKIP’s plan to encourage development in towns and cities on brownfield land. The party proposes issuing government bonds in brownfield sites to help funding in those areas. Furthermore, people who buy homes on brownfield sites in towns and cities will not have to pay stamp duty.
But this scheme will only cram even more housing into already overpopulated urban areas.
Instead of increasing development in towns and cities the Government should begin to have a proper conversation about developing on green belt land.
Contrary to public perception a lot of the green belt has very little environmental or amenity value. Nor is it chosen for its natural beauty. Much of the land is poor-quality scrubland, and is certainly not rolling green pastures. Most is privately owned and not accessible to the public. It’s basic function is to prevent the urban sprawl.
Since 2001, when many key political figures first started to raise the alarm about the shortfall in housebuilding, the left and the right have been desperate to prevent any incursion on the green belt. At the heart of this has been the idea that the UK is being covered in concrete and very soon there will be no countryside left. This is not the case. Only a tiny fraction of the UK is developed – about seven per cent. These figures include areas such as parks, gardens, allotments and sport pitches. Green belts actually cover more land – 13 per cent – than is built on.
It would not take much green belt space to create plenty of new homes. Research carried out by The Centre for Cities shows that building on just 5.2 per cent of green belt land within and around the UK’s least affordable cities would provide 1.4 million new homes. These would be built at suburban densities within walking distance of train stations.
Refusing to build in the green built will force people to live in smaller and smaller homes. Older houses will increasingly be split up into multiple flats. And house prices will continue to soar. Homelessness will rise.
It’s certainly time to loosen the green belt.