The London School of Economics has called for a pilot project to encourage selective building on the Green Belt around London.
The radical proposal comes in a report from LSE that calls for a serious review of Green Belt policy, in the face of increasing development pressure. The publication, entitled A 21st Century Metropolitan Green Belt, says planning regulations need to move from their current unsatisfactory situation, where small parts of the area are being subtly “chipped away”. Instead, it calls for a more strategic approach, that will make more sense environmentally and allow properly planned settlements to be considered.
“We have reached a point where we cannot keep on disregarding the Green Belt as an option for well thought out development,” said Dr Alan Mace, professor of urban planning studies at LSE. “Brownfield sites simply cannot supply enough land to meet projected housing needs in London and the Wider South East.”
“People often look at the Green Belt and say, ‘who would want to lose this?’ but often they’re looking at land that is protected in other ways, such as Metropolitan Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and this would not change. Some parts of the Green Belt are neither aesthetically pleasing nor environmentally valuable and these are the areas that should be looked at for potential development.”
A series of development corridors are identified by researchers, who say this is the preferred option for moving forward. Other options, such as encouraging development around existing rail stations, urban extensions and new garden settlements were also considered, along with the option of fundamentally closing down Green Belt protection.
“The corridor option involves the possibility of planning a series of larger development centres (or clusters of smaller ones) along public transport links within the corridor,” says the report, concluding that development corridors are the best option for accommodating growth, which would not simply be more housing developments, but would include commercial space too.
The report was generated off the back of extensive live research and consultation carried out by the LSE, since last autumn. And it has a recommendation to use the London to Cambridge as a “pioneer corridor” – with the virtue of this area being that it already has a well-established interest group backing it. The London Stansted Cambridge Consortium, which was established in 2013, combines local authorities and private partners to promote economic growth, and is active in organising conferences and other events to that end.
Added Mace: “By locking up potentially developable land, the Green Belt forces development further from London leading to longer commutes and –importantly – adds to housing pressures across the whole of the Wider South East. Because of his central role, London’s Mayor needs to embrace a coordinating role in any review of the Green Belt and develop a framework for more active collaboration across the whole of the region.”
Back in April, the Campaign to Protect Rural England claimed 275,000 homes were planned in Green Belt locations, a figure that was up 50,000 in a year.
At the time, the organisation’s planning campaign manager Paul Miner commented: “Councils are increasingly eroding the Green Belt to meet unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets. We need stronger protection for the Green Belt, not just supportive words and empty promises. To build the affordable homes young people and families need, the Government should empower councils to prioritise the use of brownfield sites. Brownfield land is a self-renewing resource that can provide at least 1 million new homes.”
The consortium behind the London to Cambridge corridor recently published a report from their own Growth Commission, noting it “represents a unique opportunity to build the next global knowledge region in the UK”. It believes the corridor has the potential to sit alongside Silicon Valley as one of the top five global centres of such industries. It calls for collaboration to deliver essential improvements, and has new powers for infrastructure, housing and placemaking on its wishlist. The report calls on the government to enable further growth with a series of interventions, including creating a regional transport body, and freeing up local taxation initiatives.
LPA Perspective: A well thought through, and thorough document, the LSE report argues coherently for a change in approach to the Green Belt. And it adds considerable weight to the growing clamour for a more strategic rethink of the historic protection of this restrictive belt around the capital.
The debate is beginning to open up. And, in contrast with some other blue sky thoughts, this report has a practical suggestion for a trial, which would pick up on an already active group looking to make more of the M11 corridor. Given that the group is formed and already working together, it could doubtless gain more traction if given planning support – or better, official government blessing.
The corridor concept has strong merit, and ought to be given an opportunity to deliver. And, it appears, the London to Cambridge consortium is well on the way to starting work – with or without government support.