Rethinking the Green Belt

On July 27th our Head of Planning, Jonathan Manns, presented at Parliament to the All Party Parliamentary Group for London’s Planning and Built Environment. APPG chair Rupa Huq MP and Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture and the London Society, introduced the session that saw politicians, academics, economists and other experts consider the future for London’s contentious Green belt. With London facing an ever-increasing demand for new homes, the focus was on the need for a rethink of the role this land could play in securing a sustainable future. London’s Green Belt currently measures 516,000 hectares – over three times the size of the Greater London Authority area, of which 22% is so designated and there are 14 London boroughs with more Green Belt land than that set aside for housing.

As it stands, it would take less than 2% of the Green Belt to accommodate a million more homes and Siobhain McDonagh MP for Mitcham and Morden, has been campaigning for the release of well-connected, scrappier land, to accommodate this. McDonagh was integral to the discussion as she sees the distress caused by ‘imminent homelessness’ at her weekly advice surgery. Responding to the discussion, Lord Best expressed the view that solving the housing crisis should trump political allegiance. Ruth Cadbury MP agreed and made clear that ‘looking at the Green Belt has to be put on the table as a solution to the housing crisis, but not unless we can address land value capture’. Lord Taylor stressed his support for a strategic review but also for mixed developments as ‘if you only build affordable homes you don’t build good communities’. Additionally, Emma Dent-Coed MP indicated scope for development at greater density, as ‘not everybody wants to live in a terraced house, if you listen to the Grenfell residents they loved that tower’.

Jonathan was recognised by Huq and Murray as beginning the current debate about London’s Green Belt with his paper ‘Green Sprawl’, published in 2014. He emphasised the way that our views of the countryside have changed over time but that those of the ideal city had remained largely the same. ‘There has been a disconnect between the shared cultural imagination and the rational evidence-based attempts of planners to consider the built environment as a whole. The result is a debate that’s been framed between ideological justifications for the status quo and practical ones for review’, he said. ‘If we’re going to rethink the Green Belt, we need to do this strategically. We shouldn’t think of the Green Belt in isolation but in the context of the built and natural environments that we want to create. We can then agree a policy approach which seeks to achieve this’.

The issues around how we view the Green belt will continue to be a contentious debate and we’re excited to have Jon contribute to this important conversation.