Green Belt has been playing an integral role in shaping the English landscape for over 60 years. But in the midst of the housing crisis, some people think these regulations have become outdated.

Currently covering more than a tenth of the land in England, Green Belt surround cities like London, Oxford and Manchester. By placing tight planning restriction on development, Green Belt stops urban areas from consuming all the open space around them and merging with other settlements.

According to the National Planning Policy Framework which governs planning policy across the country, Green Belt serves five purposes:

The five purposes of Green Belt
The five purposes of Green Belt

This map created by Campaign to Protect Rural England shows just how much of the country is currently covered by Green Belt regulations.

The concept of Green Belt has been around since the early 1900’s but didn’t gain full traction until 1955, when county councils were urged by government to draw up boundaries. Geographical historian Raymond Smith delves into the history of the Belts:

“It was probably only expected to be a few miles wide initially. Perhaps ten, twelve miles something like that. But local authorities rather took it to heart and they came up with much wider areas”

But a lot has changed since the 1950’s, one thing in particular is the housing market. A study commissioned by Keepmoat Homes revealed that the average age of a first-time buyer is now 30. This contrasts heavily with the 1960’s when the average age was only 23. Figures released by the government this year show that an annual price rise of 4.6%, has left the average property value at £242,286.

Professor of Housing and Planning Nick Gallent from University College London defines the housing crisis:

“The housing crisis is a crisis of cost, in that the cost of housing is becoming an increasing strain for many people”

So with the housing crisis pricing many people out of home ownership, some people have begun to question whether restricting the growth of urban areas with Green Belt is a good idea.

The Adam Smith Institute is a neo-liberal free market think tank, which sees the housing crisis as an issue of supply and demand. In a video posted to Twitter, the ASI’s President Dr Madsen Pirie explains this approach.

Simply put, because there aren’t enough houses to meet demand, the price for them rockets upwards. The ASI believes that restrictive planning regulation, like the Green Belt, is preventing new homes from being built which could help meet demand and lower costs.

The Home Builders Federation represents the home building industry in England and Wales. Their members are responsible for building roughly 80% of all new homes in the England and wales. Their planning director Andrew Whitaker believes new homes need to be built, but that a conversation needs to take place about how this is achieved.

“We need more homes in this country, full stop. Who builds them and what kind of homes they build, that’s something we can have a discussion about”

But to some people any alteration of the Green Belt is seen to be a slippery slope. Campaign to Protect Rural England was founded in 1926 and has been fighting to preserve the English countryside ever since. As the first organisation to call for the introduction of the Green Belt over 60 years ago, they passionately believe in its purposes.

Alice Roberts from CPRE explains that the Green Belt is already under an immense amount of pressure and that once it’s been built on, there’s no getting it back.

“Green belt boundaries are changing at the fastest rate they have in two decades. On top of this over 11,000 hectares of Green Belt has been lost to development within the last four years”

One place where the development of Green Belt land is being considered is Beaconsfield in South Buckinghamshire. As a market town located 23 miles out London, it’s a hub for commuters looking to get into central London.

The market town of Beaconsfield

Plans are currently being considered by local councils on whether to build up to 1,700 new homes as well as office space and a traveller site. Nearly 118 hectares of land could be developed, which has sparked outrage from members of the community.

One local civic group called the Beaconsfield Society, has set up a Facebook page called Beaconsfield NOW to raise awareness of these plans. The group believes that development of Green Belt in the area could prove disastrous for the town.

The Beaconsfield Society
The Beaconsfield Society

Peter Foster from the Beaconsfield Society discussed the upcoming plans.

Councillor John Read from South Bucks District Council said that they are considering all the options in relation to urban development and Green Belt release in the area. He emphasised that the council was still gathering all the evidence it needs, which would go forward to make up a draft local plan. After this another public consultation is set to take place.

So the future of Beaconsfield’s Green Belt is as yet undecided. But the battle currently taking place is being shadowed up and down the nation. Across England portions of Green Belt land could be shaved away to provide housing. But as demand for housing grows with the population, this trimming may continue to a point where the Green Belt is unrecognisable. People must consider just what they are willing to sacrifice to defeat the housing crisis.

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