Unbuckle the Green Belt

The Green Belt is a luxury London cannot afford

Sheep in a field near Latimer, Bucknghamshire.

Image: Peter O’Connor

On LBC radio this week, David Cameron told the world that he is concerned that his child will find it difficult to get on the housing ladder. It’s a concern that I’m sure numerous parents have across the country. I suspect that it’s a worry that a lot of students like myself frequently have too. Reporting of this online has largely been concerned with the illusion that the Prime Minister’s family will in any way face the housing troubles which the majority of the United Kingdom experiences, but we shouldn’t allow this to detract from what I think is a very important message.

There aren’t enough houses in the United Kingdom. There are nowhere near enough houses, and every year that the government and our local councils do nothing about this, the problem grows. If we’re not experiencing a crisis now, then we soon will be.

The problem, you might think, is one as simple as building more houses. In part, you’d be right, but across the country opposition to new housing developments dominates local government discourse. “Not in my back yard”, or so the saying goes. And, back yard is the operative phrase: the green belt is one of the biggest causes of stifling developments nationwide. Government regulation is actively holding us back, and it will continue to do so until we make a positive case for change.

The purpose of the green belt is to protect nice green spaces for use by all. There’s something very worthwhile in this; studies have shown that access to green areas promotes happiness in a community. Why then are we content to limit access to green spaces to those rich enough to afford houses on the outskirts of British cities?

The green belt effectively creates urban containment: when a city or town cannot grow outwards, it starts to fill in the available spaces inside them, eventually pushing upwards. Access to green spaces for the majority then decreases because of green belts. Urban containment also leads to tremendous strains on a city’s infrastructure, leading to congestion and long commutes; both of which contribute significantly towards climate change due to pollution.

Green belts stifle development, reducing the number of houses available to either rent or buy. A decreasing supply and an ever growing demand means that we ought to have a lot to worry about if we ever hope to afford a house in the future. But the green belt doesn’t just price us out of the housing market, it also reduces green space within cities, contributes towards densification, and worse yet is environmentally fiendish.

Around 10% of the UK constitutes developed land, so we’re in no danger of turning our country into a concrete metropolis that greenbelt advocates suggest will happen. The strict maintenance of green belts is doing an injustice to our generation which ought to be rectified before it gets much worse, though considering the sort of people who benefit from the greenbelt and considering the feeble opposition to this government, I won’t hold my breath.

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