Leading land agent Aston Mead says that campaigners in favour of maintaining the green belt need to accept that some of it will have to be built on, if a solution is to be found for the UK housing crisis.
The company’s comments come after the release of a report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which claims to have uncovered blueprints for more than 123,000 homes on 203 sites on protected green belt land around London. The group says that most of them “are allocated in Local Plan documents, so the threats are real”.
Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Adam Hesse said: “It’s time that campaign groups like the CPRE stopped making knee-jerk reactions to every proposed bit of building on green belt land – especially when some of these Local Plans haven’t even been adopted.
“First of all it’s important to correct the misconception that green belt land has an inherent ecological or agricultural value – it doesn’t. Nor was it chosen because it has natural beauty or protected wildlife.
“The truth is that there are different ‘grades’ of greenbelt out there – some of which should be protected at all costs. But there’s a lot of what I call ‘grubby’ greenbelt – especially around road junctions and train stations – which most people would be surprised to discover was even considered to be green belt in the first place.”
Adam Hesse points to a particular case of greenbelt land in Surrey, which he suggests contains all the right ingredients for planning permission to be obtained, and is a prime contender for the sort of location where new homes might even enhance the area.
He explains: “For example, there’s a patch of land near Junction 11 of the M25. There are over 20 acres of ‘grubby’ greenbelt there, all rather uninspiring as it stands, but big enough for over 200 homes. It’s within walking distance of Addlestone station, there are hundreds of existing homes nearby, and the network of roads around it would prevent further development once it was built. Most people wouldn’t even realise this is green belt land and few people would miss it if it was built on.”
There are 14 areas of green belt in the UK, with that around London covering 1.2m acres – where the CPRE claim to have found “threatened areas” including 207,000 acres in Hertfordshire, 300,000 acres in Surrey, and 240,000 acres in Essex.
Adam Hesse adds: “The trouble is that the idea of creating protected ribbons of land around our major urban areas is an outdated and failed experiment. Instead of preventing urban sprawl, the green belt has pushed house building into genuinely valuable parts of the countryside that really should be protected. All of which has meant longer commuting times, increased expense and more pollution.
“In effect, green belts now act as ‘walls’ which confine urban dwellers at increasingly higher densities – and are partly the reason why house prices are out of reach for so many.
“This country is already prioritising development on brown field land, and it’s expected that 90% of such sites will have planning permission by 2020. But if we are going to solve this country’s housing crisis, some building on green belt land is now inevitable.”