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Former DCLG adviser calls for development on green belt

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A former government planning adviser has called for the green belt to be abolished and replaced with a Scandinavian-style ‘green fingers’ to alleviate housing pressure in UK cities

The ex-adviser to the Department for Communities and Local Government and professor emeritus of economic geography at LSE Paul Cheshire has said that the original purpose of the green belt has been lost, and now serves to protect interests of relatively wealthy rural property owners.

Speaking at a talk to the Institute of Public Affairs, Cheshire, who advised the Department for Communities and Local Government until 2010, said: ‘[Green belts] benefit very few people but we are paying a huge price for them in terms of housing cost.’

There are currently 14 areas of protected green belt land in England, which surround cities such as London, Manchester and Birmingham. Cheshire argued that a Scandinavian model of development wedges would allow the belt to remain but that ‘Britain’s housing crisis could be solved by building large new estates in green belts close to train stations’.

According to The Adam Smith Institute up to a million homes on the outskirts of London could be built by utilising 3.7 per cent of green belt land close to railway stations.

Speaking about the green belt HTA managing partner Ben Derybshire said: ‘We urgently need to put in place the structures that would enable a world city of London’s status and size to organise and meet its own needs.

‘The starting point would be the recognition that the footprint of the capital extends far beyond its presently defined boundaries.

‘Allowing the widely acknowledged success of the green belt to become an excuse for inaction is not helpful. The question is how to think of the built and unbuilt footprint of the capital in such a way as to enhance the sustainable wellbeing of humankind and the natural environment at the same time.’


David Rudlin of Urbed - the winner of the £250,000 Wolfson Economics Prize for his garden city proposal
‘I agree with Cheshire that it makes no sense at all for London to export its housing to surrounding districts while its green belt remains sacrosanct. The most sustainable place to expand the city (after brownfield sites) is its greenbelt. 

‘However it doesn’t follow that we should do away with the green belt. We could accommodate a very significant amount of housing in quite a small part of London’s Green Belt. This requires a robust mechanism for adjusting the green belt, rather than its abolition.

‘This adjustment may well involve green fingers, it depends on the local circumstances. However the idea of fingers suggests that there will be more development than green space, and as I say we probably need less than 10 per cent of the greenbelt to accommodate the housing we need.’ 



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Readers' comments (1)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    The CPRE and other protagonists are apt to view criticism of the quality of countryside as a Trojan horse for development interests. But in any event it’s not acceptable to put up with the examples of rural degradation that are often cited as reasons for doing away with it: the scruffy fields of rusty containers, the monocultural agri-business, the failing golf courses. We should reaffirm our commitment to protect and enhance the Green Belt with a new charter that enables investment in its natural resources.

    London has a duty to offset the environmental impact of its growing population. We must invest in biodiversity to bring back the stag beetles, hawk moths, hedgehogs and other species whose populations have collapsed during my lifetime. At the same time we should harness the opportunity for human well-being by improving access to and appreciation of the natural environment. An audit of the capacity of London’s unbuilt land would reveal different degrees of suitability for environmental enhancement.

    The London Society has been thinking for a century about improving the relationship between London's built footprint and its rural context, and since long before town and country planning was even invented. Now that we have had the benefit of planning for more than half that time, now that we understand so much more about the need to minimise and mitigate our impact on the environment, and now that London's population is growing at the rate of 300 people every day - surely we should be debating an appropriate redefinition of the interface between town and country.

    Of course we should examine whether a new boundary should be a concentric enlargement, alignment with transport infrastructure to create green wedges, or isolated islands within a green sea - why would we not?

    Ben Derbyshire,
    Managing Partner HTA Design LLP
    Chair, The Housing Forum.

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