How green is it?

There are few words more likely to induce a state of cognitive bias than ‘greenbelt’. For most people, the knee jerk association is an image of our green and pleasant land and the potential to despoil it. It’s been a very British sacred cow for over seventy years, and whilst many other former sacred cows have been led gently to their final resting place, this one stays frolicking in the field.

Most people who have cause to deal with the subject on a meaningful level know the statistics- only 9% of the land in this country is built on, greenbelt doubled in size in the 1980’s, last year it grew by 24,000 hectares, etcetera, etcetera. The irresistible force is meeting the immovable object. Housing prices and shortages are causing untold misery for many and no one doubts the need for a great deal more housing to be built. Something’s got to give.

It’s estimated that relinquishing just 10% of greenbelt could provide land for literally millions of homes- homes that would be in desirable and practical locations. Contrary to the popular imagination, greenbelt land is not necessarily the rolling hills and picturesque valleys we often imagine it to be. A car park can be designated as greenbelt, indeed, on one of the sites we’re currently working on, that’s the case, yet it’s subject to draconian legal protection.

It’s time to take the sacred cow by the horns and review what we designate as greenbelt and be a great deal more flexible in our approach to it. And that approach would include a review of the hope value system for landowners, which can result in inflated land values.

A starting point might be the reclassification of hard landscaping (essentially brownfield sites), within greenbelt areas, which could allow a new build permitted development. Significant societal measures always encounter a degree of opposition, but in the final analysis, we have to ask ourselves what constitutes a greater good for the population and act accordingly.