It’s become a political hot topic in recent years: should we start building on the green belt surrounding London?
As you’ve probably guessed from the name of this site, I’m not in favour of building on the green belt. I am, however, realistic about the fact that the green belt is unlikely to remain completely untouched.
So what are the arguments on both sides?
The main argument for pro-builders is that England, and especially Southern England, is running out of space for affordable homes. Housing prices have shot up, people are finding it hard to get on the property ladder, and the cost of land is so high that building companies are struggling (supposedly) to build anything that first-time buyers could afford.
I’m not arguing with any of that. We have a shortage of housing, and something needs to be done about it. Everyone is likely to say “yes, we need more housing, just as long as it’s not near me” – but it has to go somewhere.
But what really irks me is that the main reason there is such a clamour from home builders for new developments on the green belt is because it’s cheaper for them. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but what they fail to mention is that the green belt is more expensive to build on for everyone else.
Not only do we all stand to lose some beautiful countryside, but it’s the tax payer who will end up paying for new roads, train stations and other infrastructure. These are going to be expensive if you’re talking about building hundreds of thousands of homes, which is what’s needed, yet building on the green belt means that very little of the infrastructure is in place.
There is also the obvious downside, and a major one at that, of potentially losing some incredibly beautiful locations. One of the great things about London is that the green belt means you don’t need to go far to see some real countryside, but that could change.
It won’t be a problem straight away, as there are some neglected areas of the green belt that would certainly be built on first (I believe many of these locations are purposefully left in a complete state so that they are more likely to get future planning permission, although I can’t prove that!). But what worries me is opening the door to a continuous erosion of the green belt land.
I’m sure proponents of building in these areas will tell me this fear is unfounded, but is it really? It won’t take long before all the ugly areas of the belt have been built on, but without sorting the underlying problem of population growth in Southern England, what happens then? At that time, the obvious next step will be to build on the rest of the green belt – and much of the legislation protecting it will already have been removed. This is the true danger of the current political climate when it comes to the green belt.