Housing minister hits back at RIBA demand to build on green belt
The government’s new housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis, has dismissed the RIBA’s call to build more new homes ‘on the unloved parts of the green belt’
Earlier this month, in its action plan, Building a Better Britain: A Vision for the Next Government, the institute claimed that part of the solution to the housing crisis could be ‘building on some parts of the green belt that have a low or negligible environmental and amenity value.’ (AJ 04.07.14).
But Lewis has swatted away the demand, saying the coalition had no intention of relaxing permissions for development in the countryside. He said: ‘We are absolutely clear of the need to make the best possible use of brownfield land in a way that keeps strong safeguards in place to protect our valued countryside, and we have absolutely no plans to change these important green belt protections.’
Lewis’s swipe comes as the Campaign to Protect Rural England launched a new initiative to identify sites suitable for new housing. The Waste of Space campaign calls for people to nominate plots, which it will compile into a national database and use to put pressure on the government to increase incentives for developers to target brownfield sites.
RIBA head of external affairs Anna Scott-Marshall said: ‘I don’t think we actually disagree. The proposals concerning the Green Belt in our report state clearly we need to make the best use of brownfield land and that we very much support the brownfield first policy. And we quite clearly also need to protect our valued countryside.
‘Rather our proposal suggests that the next Government should undertake an audit of the Green Belt to understand the value of that land. In doing so Local Authorities could look to both improve green belt land to be more environmentally valuable or in some cases look to build on that land. In many cases the Green Belt has served to encourage development to jump over into the precious countryside which was never the idea when it was devised 50 years ago.’
‘Clearly Green Belt is only one small issue in looking at being a lot more strategic in planning including solutions for the current housing crisis. Our report makes many recommendations to address this.’
Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
‘Building on the green belt, while there are still brownfield sites and opportunities for intensification, would damage our towns and cities as much as the countryside, so it’s positive to hear the Government’s commitment.
‘We need to build new towns in our cities, and also to repair the existing urban fabric, by intensifying and infilling areas around existing infrastructure, by creating well-designed places rather than just chasing numbers, by putting local authorities and communities at the heart of planning, and by making sure that planning permissions are implemented. We need 250,000 homes a year in England alone.
‘Last year we built less than half that number.’
Previous story (AJ 02.07.14)
RIBA backs building on greenbelt
The RIBA has said more homes should be built on the greenbelt in a ‘controversial’ action plan drawn up for whoever wins the 2015 general election
The claims are made in a new document, Building a Better Britain: A vision for the next government, which sets out the institute’s main demands in an attempt to shape future policy.
The RIBA said the nation’s housing crisis could only be solved by rethinking the greenbelt and allowing homes to be built on sites where the greenbelt ‘no longer serves its purpose’, and where development has jumped the divide between urban and rural.
The report adds: ‘With the right approach, developing areas of low-value greenbelt could be a mechanism to unlock brownfield sites if local authorities retain the uplift in land value generated by granting planning permission, and use this income to remediate brownfield sites to increase density close to urban centres.’
RIBA council candidate Ben Derbyshire of HTA Design said the recommendations were ‘going to be controversial’, and that many members would not agree.
He said: ‘It is another example of the RIBA seeking profile through controversy and this can be counter-productive, even alienating to member interests.
‘A better approach would be a joint initiative with planning institutes to show how urban extensions can be delivered in a local consensus through the existing planning system.’
Paul Miner, senior planning officer at Campaign to Protect Rural England, also criticised the RIBA’s recommendations.
He said: ‘Greenbelt land should only be lost as a last resort. However, there are good points in the report such as welcoming the ideas about bringing brownfield back into use.’
The report also slams the government’s current garden cities prospectus for ‘stopping short of setting out a bold vision for comprehensive masterplanning and the design standards that this scale of new development should aspire’.
In addition, the institute demands an end to Gove’s standardised school designs, criticising the current school building programme as ‘too cheap’ and producing buildings which ‘aren’t fit for purpose’. The RIBA recommends that the next government increases spending on schools by 20 per cent per square metre.
RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: ‘The next UK government should empower our cities, towns and villages to prosper and provide the homes, education, services and jobs that are vital for the nation […] It needs to look at architecture and the built environment as part of the solution.’
The RIBA’s recommendations to government
- An architecture policy setting out a long-term vision for creating great places is needed
- A long term strategic plan for the country addressing decisions around housing, infrastructure, flooding and energy is needed
- A National Spatial Strategy to act as a framework for infrastructure, economic development, and housing is required
- A cabinet minister should be appointed to deliver architecture policy and spatial strategy
- The cabinet minister should be supported by a chief design advisor from the construction sector
- City regions should outline how they will deliver great architecture
- The government should produce a more comprehensive prospectus for new towns and garden cities
- A review of the green belt should be carried out
- The government should establish Local Development Alliances
- The government should commit £3million per year form the Regional Growth Fund to finance a new Design Network
- The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should be reviewed
- Government must ensure local authorities have adopted Local Plans
- All neighbourhood plans above a defined size should be assessed by a design review panel
- The local authority borrowing cap on Housing Revenue Account receipts should be removed
- The government should support the establishment of a Local Housing Development Fund sourced from local authority pension funds or a National Housing Investment Bank
- Local authorities should make land available for custom-build, self-build and smaller developers in the form of serviced plots
- Government should simplify the regulatory requirements for new homes into a national guide including space standards
- Government should provide greater incentives to councils to bring forward development
- Tax incentives for firms producing off-site construction components and developers utilising off-site construction techniques should be introduced
- The cost per square metre for schools built through the Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP) should be increased by 20 per cent
- The size of government-funded schools should return to the areas recommended in Building Bulletin 98 for secondary schools, Building Bulletin 99 for primary schools, and Building Bulletin 102 for special schools
- Scoring on procurement should be changed from a cheapest wins approach
- Local authorities with less than 50 per cent green space should have to produce a healthy infrastructure plan
- All health and wellbeing boards should be required to contain a local planner or design champion
- Government should commit to spending 10 per cent of transport budgets on walking and cycling
- Local authorities should have an urban ageing strategy in place addressing issues of active ageing in line with the World Health Organisation’s Age Friendly Cities principles
- A proportion of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments should be ring-fenced for improvements to the local high streets
- The government alongside housing associations should come up with a pilot scheme for multi-generational homes
- Any new programme for new towns or garden cities should provide innovations in new housing
- The new government should introduce legislation committing successive governments to make flooding resilience a strategic priority for the next 100 years
- Government and the Environment Agency should develop a strategic plan for flood risk management
- The government should set out a National Retrofit Strategy for all building types
- Whole life carbon assessments should be made mandatory for all retrofit projects
- With the exception of heritage buildings, external insulation should be made a permitted development
- Local planning authorities should lead retrofit as brokers of the Green Deal
- Government should develop a coordinated marketing strategy to improve Green Deal take-up
- Mandatory Display Energy Certificates (DECs) should be extended to the private sector
Previous story (AJ 16.12.08)
Ruth Reed: ‘Greenbelt is not sacrosanct’
Ruth Reed, RIBA president elect, has claimed that the green belt is ‘not completely sacrosanct’ and warned that ‘careful decisions’ need to be made about its future.
Reed, who beat Andrew Hanson in the race to succeed Sunand Prasad as next year’s RIBA president, said there were not enough brownfield sites in the UK to enable the government to achieve its housing target of three million new homes by 2020.
‘We are in an interesting position here in England,’ said Reed. ‘Only 10 per cent of our land is urbanised; we have got to think very carefully how we release more land for development.
‘People are extremely protective of the countryside but we have to think where it is sustainable to develop. If the land is in the green belt we have to make some very careful decisions,’ she added.
Speaking to NBS Learning Channel, Reed also claimed that there was a ‘lack of skill in the planning sector’ as experienced local authority planners are snapped up by the more lucrative private sector.
Reed said it was a knowledge gap that should be filled by a self-certificating scheme led by architects: ‘For smaller schemes planning should be divulged to architects. Planning authorities would still carry out third-party checks, but the ultimate responsibility should lie with the architect.’