Redefining the green belt could increase housing supply

A leading architect says the UK must redefine the green belt to tackle the lack of new homes being built.

Richard Hyams is director and founder of architectural practice Astudio. In a comment piece for Planning and Building Control Today, he argues that the green belt is not simply rolling fields in the countryside and that lifting planning restrictions and building on some parts of the green belt would free up developers to build much-needed homes.

He points to how stringent planning rules restrict the amount of land that can be developed, suggesting that drives up house prices artificially.

Not enough available land

With the Government committed to building an extra 300,000 houses in England every year by the middle of the next decade, politicians have recognised how essential increasing house-building has become.

Hyams writes: "The question, then, is how we can generate the homes we so urgently need when there is not enough available land on which to build them?"

Recognising that building on the green belt is a sensitive issue that attracts a lot of criticism, Hyams points out that much of the land within those designated areas is not green at all but is instead brownfield land.

Thinking creatively

He notes: "That means that disused petrol stations, warehouses, railway sidings and scrubland are all designated green land despite, firstly, not being green and, secondly, having little to no purpose for communities.

"The hedgerows, fields and woodlands that we associate with the green belt are typically protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or ancient woodlands, meaning that they, rightly so, remain untouched.

"England has one of the lowest levels of built environment per capita in the whole of Europe, with only 2 percent of the UK being concreted over and 98 percent being classed as natural land.

"Clearly a fine balance needs to be struck between preserving the best of the green belt while also thinking creatively about how to solve the UK's housing crisis... The country is in serious need of affordable homes. The weight of evidence suggests it is on England's brown, unpleasant land that we could find them."