Failure to act on green belt a "big disappointment", say Tory think tank Bright Blue

Catherine Neilan
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Fears Grow For Green Belt Land As Planning Laws Set To Be Relaxed
"Big, bold solutions on the green belt are required" (Source: Getty)

The "big disappointment" from yesterday's Budget was a failure to shake up green belt restrictions, according to a former minister and a leading Conservative think tank.

While backing Philip Hammond's stamp duty proposal, Bright Blue senior research fellow Sam Hall said the team had hoped reforms had been blocked because "the Prime Minister and others" opposed changes which risked upsetting their constituents.

Hall stressed a compromise could be made, whereby developers building on low quality green belt in high demand areas such as London, Oxford and Cambridge could be mandated to create new parks or forests in the local area, thus actually improving the quality of the local area as well as providing homes "where they are needed".

"The challenge is to get housing where we need it - big, bold solutions on the green belt are required," he added.

Bright Blue director Ryan Shorthouse said: "There is serious opposition [to green belt reform] within constituencies. That is why [certain MPs] are very reluctant to do it, even people right at the top of the Cabinet."

Wimbledon MP and former minister Stephen Hammond agreed the lack of movement on the green belt would have been "a disappointment for some people". But he stressed that reforms could still be made, albeit not a blanket lift of the current restrictions.

Shorthouse said the OBR's assessment that the stamp duty proposal would push house prices up by 0.3 per cent should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the figures were based on the reaction to the post-crash stamp duty holiday, which was "a different time". Even if prices did rise by that amount it would "still be a net benefit" for first-time buyers, he argued.

He added: "I don't want to trash the OBR, but they did predict 80,000 jobs would be lost because of the national living wage, and here we are with record employment."

More generally, Hammond said his namesake had given a strong performance during yesterday's announcement, echoing the view put forward by backbench colleagues that he had saved his own job - for the time being at least.

"I expect him to be presenting the next Budget," Hammond said.

Shorthouse agreed that Hammond had "passed the test" in producing a "sound Budget, which isn't overly ambitious, but with some sensible steps".

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