Will building on the green belt increase affordable housing?
The need for more housing, especially homes for low paid workers, is not in dispute. Yet the Barker* report, which says annual housebuilding must be doubled, with relaxed planning controls to extend use of greenfield sites, must be questioned.
The report’s proposals threaten Britain’s open spaces, including London’s green belt, yet building on the green belt would not increase affordable housing. What it would do is destroy forever a precious and irreplaceable amenity – open spaces that allow an escape from traffic, noise and pollution. The green belt is London’s ‘lungs’, and will, if it survives, be enjoyed by generations to come.
Barker Report challenged
The report makes several assumptions, as follows, that have been challenged”:
1.Recent census data show there are more dwellings than households in Britain. The surplus has actually increased in all regions except London, where the surplus is stable. Policies are needed to bring more empty homes into use. The national mismatch of homes and jobs needs to be addressed by regional employment policies, so that people are not forced to move away to find work. Areas of high unemployment are blighted by empty homes on run-down, crime-ridden estates. Changing these social conditions would remove the need for families to move away.
2.A massive increase in the supply of houses would not bring house prices in reach of the low paid. It would only slow the rate of price increases. Rising prices stem as much from low interest rates, speculative purchase and developers’ policies as from limited supply. Housebuilders prefer to build large homes on greenfield sites, as these bring the greatest profit, but this results in prices that are out of reach of most families. The way to increase affordable accommodation is through increasing the proportion of social housing – that is, housing at subsidised rent, provided by local councils or housing associations. New social housing in England has declined from 100,000 units in the 1970s to 13,000 in 2003, a trend that should be reversed.
3.Lack of available land is not the main reason for rising house prices, as similar rises have been seen in the US and Australia. The planning system is a necessary brake on the housebuilding industry’s aim to maximise profits irrespective of the wishes and needs of local residents or the quality of the environment. Local planning controls can help to maximise use of brownfield sites, prevent insensitive development - and protect the green belt for the benefit of all Londoners.
Will expensive new houses in the London area help our nurses, teachers and fire officers find homes, or attract purchase by well-off people from all over Britain and overseas?
*Barker Report 2004
“ Europe Economics report, 2004