I have a letter on the Green Belt in the Times, a response to a piece by Tim Montgomerie criticising the Conservatives for their ‘appeasement of the nimby vote. A near-theological protection of green belt land explains why millions of young people can’t afford to buy a home. Planning restrictions remain the most impoverishing form of red tape in British public life.’
I admire Tim Montgomerie’s concern for people in need – he wrote a passionate article earlier this year about the humanitarian imperative to rescue economic migrants trying to get to Europe. But on UK housing, I wish he would move beyond the glib, unevidenced assumption that releasing more greenfield land must result in more housing. I wish, too, that he would try harder to understand why people – reasonable people – might object to new housing, and what might need to change to persuade them to accept it. Simply condemning them achieves nothing.
Here is the full version of my letter (the printed version is slightly shortened).
It is depressing that Tim Montgomerie peddles the line that we need to build on the Green Belt to resolve the housing crisis (It’s a myth that Tory modernisers won the day, May 14).
CPRE has established that there is enough suitable brownfield land for at least a million new homes, much of it in London and the South East. No one has contested these figures. The problem is not land, it is getting the houses built.
The major house builders have plenty of land with planning permission, but they dribble out supply. The small builders who once built two-thirds of private sector homes, now build less than a third and their market share is falling. And the state, which built over half the houses when we comfortably built over 200,000 homes every year, now builds very few. It spends on housing benefit, much of which goes to buy-to-let landlords, what it used to spend on building homes.
Meanwhile, for all the protestation of politicians that the Green Belt is safe, it is being it is being steadily eroded across England while brownfield sites go to waste. Tim Montgomerie should stop taking his lines from the developer-funded, anti-planning think-tanks. We need more houses, and some of them will inevitably go on greenfield sites. But we need to build with care. Simply dismissing those who care about the countryside as Nimbys is playground politics.