Since it was first proposed in 1935 the Green Belt has protected countryside and controlled urban growth. However, the UK population has increased by 20 million since then and the housing crisis has become a pressing domestic issue, with 65,000 new homes needing to be built to meet targets. Whilst the Green Belt protects countryside and natural areas it also prevents low-quality and brownfield land already in the Green Belt from being used, for example car washes, rubbish dumps and construction yards. This issue was raised by London First who convened an independent Citizens’ Jury of Londoners to vote on reviewing London’s Green Belt rules to help build affordable homes.
The 12 jurors, made up of a broad selection of Londoners, voted 11 – 1 in favour of reviewing London’s Green Belt. However, if the Green Belt rules were to change in line with this review this would not lead to a development frenzy. The jurors concluded that genuinely green areas should not be built on, but low-quality and brownfield land already in the Green Belt should be reviewed to see if they are a suitable location for new homes. The release of Green Belt sites is not a novel idea. Redbridge Borough Council’s Local Plan 2015-2030 included the release of Green Belt sites to deliver 18,936 houses over this period.
Changes to Green Belt rules may help to free up unused land it will not necessarily alleviate the housing crisis. Economist, Ian Mulheirn, says the issue is not a shortage of housing but the explosion of housing prices that makes it impossible for people to get a foot on the housing ladder. Reviewing London’s Green Belt might not be a complete solution to the housing crisis, but this report does, unsurprisingly, show that affordable housing is a higher concern for Londoners than the protection of car parks and construction yards.
The publication of this review comes just days after the Housing Minister Esther McVey MP announced that councils across the country are set to receive a portion of nearly £2 million to crack down on illegal developments on the Green Belt. 37 councils will be receiving up to £50,000 each to hire enforcement officers, use new technology, and help meet the legal costs of bringing ‘rogue developers’ to task for their illegal developments. This crackdown will please Green Belt campaigners, such as the CPRE who spoke at the Jury review outlining why the Green Belt policy in London should not be reviewed. The CPRE have previously said that the development of brownfield land should be prioritised, and Green Belt protection be strengthened. With the potential relaxation of Green Belt rules fighting against this increased funding and crackdown it is set to be an interesting time for developers.