Should we build on Green Belt land to help solve the housing crisis?
After cabinet minister Liz Truss called for more homes to be built in the countryside, the debate has raged on over whether the government needs to change planning laws to enable this. Property editor Caroline Culot asked two estate agents for their view.
Tim Stephens, Humberts:
'Building over swathes of our beautiful countryside is not the answer'
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The Green Belt was a government backed policy to prevent urban sprawl and to protect our precious countryside; a finite commodity. Urban sprawl uses up farmland and wildlife habitats, and increases flood risk, air pollution and car dependency. The concept and policy has to be right, not only for appeasing those NIMBYS (not in my back yard) groups, but also for those townies who walk in and enjoy the leisure and health benefits of the countryside.
Approximately 315 hectares of green fields were built over in the last year – a small percentage (0.02%) of the 1.6m hectares designated as Green Belt. However, facing the current housing crisis and a need to satisfy housing demand – why should not more land be allocated to satisfy demand?
Local Authorities claim to have room for some 720,000 homes on brownfield sites within town centres. If demand equates to say 250,000 new homes a year, a major percentage of the demand is for affordable homes. To help supply, smaller units could be constructed at higher densities, with communal parks for exercise and leisure inside those brownfield sites to help satisfy that demand and conserving the Green Belt. Dropping stamp duty for those empty nesters downsizing, would encourage older couples to move, helping free up more bedrooms and more housing for growing families. This can only be done if there are more retirement homes built and factored into Local Plans.
For the record, about 84% of houses sold on Green Belt land last year were to the middle and upper end of the market. Why are houses for first time buyers not built in the Green Belt? Purely because there is no incentive for the land owner or developer in a profit driven environment. The Local Authorities' requirement to deliver a percentage as affordable homes as a condition of granting consent recognises this point.
Building over swathes of our beautiful countryside is not the answer, but selective sites in the Green Belt, such as non=productive land, pig buildings, redundant nissen huts, chicken houses etc should be considered for development. With transport links, these small communities will provide a hub for young families who will support the local school, the church, the village shop and the pub and restore the backbone of our rural life.'
Nick Taylor, Hadley Taylor and chairman of the NDAEA, Norwich & District Association of Estate Agents:
'It's time this government got a grip on the true nature of our housing requirements and stopped pandering to vested interest groups,'
Liz Truss is the latest in a long line of politicians to suggest that building houses on the green belt is necessary to solve the housing crisis. The Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk thinks that building thousands of new homes in the countryside is the answer to all our housing problems. Firstly, I don't agree that there is a housing crisis and I certainly don't agree that building houses in the countryside is a good idea.
House builders, of course, love building houses in the countryside because it's easier than building them in towns and cities on brown field sites and so they make more profit. Profit being the primary and probably the sole driver for any house builder they would build houses on green fields all day long if they got the chance. House builders form a very powerful business lobby and this is why ministers continually suggest concreting over the green belt.
The reason it's such folly to build anything in the countryside comes down to our need to protect the environment. We are told that unless we get a grip on CO2 emissions during the next 20 to 30 years we are going to have to deal with the consequences of an over-heated planet, parts of which are going to become increasingly uninhabitable. Therefore, any new homes must be built in towns and cities in close proximity to jobs, schools and other amenities. Most new homes today are built in out of town locations with at least two cars parked outside each house. Here in Norfolk the vast majority of residents in new houses converge in their cars on the nearest town or to Norwich on a daily basis. This is clearly not desirable from a traffic congestion point of view and it certainly conflicts totally with the Government's supposed commitment to the Paris accord on climate change.
There are other practical issues such as lack of public services, school places, broadband access, electricity generation capacity, mains gas supply and water resources, to name but a few, that make big out of town housing developments totally unsustainable.
So why do we need houses in the countryside? We don't. We need some homes in urban areas and these should be small, efficient and affordable units. The sole reason we need more houses in the first place is because successive governments think it's a good idea to increase our population. It's time this government got a grip on the true nature of our housing requirements and stopped pandering to vested interest groups.
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