Building near Green Belt stations

It is rumoured that the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid set to announce a serious investment in house building and the infrastructure to go with it, with a strong emphasis on brownfield development. This is very welcome. But the Daily Mail’s suggestion that he will announce “enhanced planning powers to allow construction of houses and apartments on land, much of it derelict around railway stations especially in the South East” raises concern about the integrity of the Green Belt.

The principle of building around transport hubs is a good one and was supported in a recent CPRE report, Making the Link. But the Communities Secretary should beware of the idea that simply building around Green Belt stations in the Green Belt is an unproblematic way to solve the housing crisis. This has been energetically proposed by various enemies of the Green Belt and the planning system (step forward the Adam Smith Institute). The argument against is put briefly in CPRE’s Green Belt myth-buster. I have copied the relevant passage below.

In brief, building around Green Belt stations could be incompatible with key purposes of the Green Belt, preventing sprawl and stopping places merging together.

Myth 6: Just building on a small proportion of Green Belt would leave us with more than enough.

Why this is wrong: Much of the integrity and therefore benefits of Green Belt would be lost if we did this, including preventing sprawl and towns joining up.

Releasing just a small percentage of Green Belt sounds an attractive way of releasing land for housing. But once bits of the Green Belt are removed, the integrity is reduced and so its benefits begin to be lost. Permanence is also an important feature of Green Belt so people, businesses and the Government (through supporting environmentally sensitive farming on Green Belt land) have had the confidence to invest in the area on that basis. Conversely, the temptation is removed for people to buy Green Belt land in the hope that it will be de-designated and its notional value for development will increase.

It has been claimed that: ‘You can build 1 million new homes on 3.7% of the Green Belt (or 2.5 million homes on just over 60,000 ha of Green Belt) within walking distance of a train station.’4 This, and other claims like it, are often presented as a more moderate alternative to abolishing Green Belt policy outright. But closer analysis shows that, in many areas, they would have much the same effect, defeating the key purposes of preventing sprawl and stopping places joining up with each other. For example, Potters Bar, Slough, and Watford would all end up becoming part of London. The Green Belt would also become less accessible to people travelling by rail from the urban area it embraces.

Afterword: in the event, Sajid Javid’s speech did not mention relaxing Green Belt policy. It was a good speech, echoing many aspects of CPRE’s analysis of how to deliver more new housing.

The new £3 billion fund for house building is welcome, though it is always worth looking at the small print of spending announcements. So too is the focus on supporting small and medium-sized builders and custom building, and building as much as possible on suitable brownfield land.

The Secretary of State is clearly concerned about the slow pace of house building and the many unused planning permissions that exist. Later in the day this was made even clearer by Gavin Barwell, the housing minister, at a fringe meeting organised by the Home Builders’ Federation – he drew attention to the fact that planning permission for 277,000 homes was given in the year to June. Partly in order to speed up house building, Sajid Javid announced a pilot scheme for accelerated construction on public land, with public sector landowners working in partnership with builders and using innovative methods of construction.

This too is welcome. Simply disposing of public land has had disappointing results. A partnership between the public and private sectors is likely to result in quicker and better quality house building, most of it on brownfield sites.

It is often a mistake to read too much into a party conference speech. We are promised a housing White Paper later in the year, and this will include much more detail. But I was encouraged by Sajid Javid’s speech. I do not believe that the Government will achieve its housing target unless it truly empowers local authorities to build houses (in that I agree with Lord Gary Porter, Leader of the Local Government Association) but they are taking steps to increase house building, and working with the grain of public opinion (listening to concerns about location, quality and infrastructure) and that is very encouraging.



2 Responses to “Building near Green Belt stations”

  1. 1 Lawrence October 3, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    “Potters Bar, Slough, and Watford would all end up becoming part of London” Simply not true when you look at the map:

    A lot of it is already full of roads, industrial estates, sewage farms, golf courses (frequented by CPRE members)…

    Guess what, as well as being walking distance to a station the homes would be within walking distance of green belt.

  2. 2 CPRE Local Supporter October 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

    The blog above about Sajid Javid’s speech is bolted onto one titled ‘Building near Green belt stations’ but is about something quite different – the (new) Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government’s explanation of housing policy of the new Government. CPRE National Office should not welcome this speech too much, despite the promises on brownfield land. It is the speech of a Minister who is warning his party’s MPs and councillors not to resist development:

    “Local leaders must be prepared to make difficult calls, even if they’re unpopular.
    “And so must MPs and councillors.
    “Of course, there are valid reasons to oppose some planning applications.
    If they’re in the wrong place, or there’s not enough infrastructure, or they’re just plain ugly …
    “But all of us have a duty to think about the long-term consequences of every decision we make.
    “As elected representatives, we are here to take the right decisions – not the easy ones.
    “Ultimately, we have a responsibility to build more houses.
    “A responsibility, not just to our constituents, but to the next generation.”

    This is not support for localism, or indeed local democracy, or even conservatism (or conservation). It is telling his own party’s elected representative not to do what they always have done and what the public generally wants them to do.

    The Javid speech to the Party Conference is not the first time Ministers responsible for planning and housing have done this in the last 30-40 years, and such calls tend to be ignored. It would be unwise however of CPRE National office to ignore what Javid said.

    Full speech at:

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