After more than 20 years as a London MP, I still encounter constituents’ problems that keep me awake in the middle of the night.
They nearly always involve families threatened with homelessness or living in accommodation so terrible that it would barely seem possible in the 21st century. But what really frustrates me is my inability to help these people.
In the last year my local borough of Merton had 262 properties to let, but there are almost 10,000 families here waiting for a place to call home.
I know full well that these are not the worst statistics in London by any means, but whether you live in suburban Merton or inner London Islington, the solution to the housing crisis is building more homes.
Not so green
Like most people, I’ve always thought the Green Belt was a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want to have access to rolling fields and open land, particularly on the hottest bank holiday since records began?
Only on closer inspection, it seems the Green Belt is not all its branding makes it seem. And so, yesterday, I decided to find out for myself just how ‘green’ London’s Green Belt really is.
My first stop was an illegal waste tip in west London, a short walk from the station and just yards away from local schools and shops.
I stood frustrated, on 20 feet of rubble, wondering how it isn’t in everyone’s best interests for this site to be developed into the homes our capital is so desperate for.
I believe there is enough space for over one million new homes
My map then took me north along the busy A40 into Ealing, where many families are currently trapped in temporary accommodation at a great cost both to their welfare and to the London taxpayer.
I pulled up just yards away from a mosque, a nursery, and a school, a short walk to the nearest station. But before me, designated as Green Belt, was an inaccessible scrubland surrounded by chainlink fencing. Hardly rolling fields...
On eastward to Tottenham Hale where, unbelievably, I was to find a tyre centre and a car wash minutes from the train station and where a housing association had previously had its application for new homes turned down on the basis that this is ‘Green Belt’ land. There was absolutely nothing green about it.
The reality of London’s Green Belt is that there are countless numbers of similar sites across our capital where I believe there is enough space for over 1m new homes.
A battle worth fighting
When it comes to re-designating the Green Belt, so many people have told me not to go there. It’s a volatile topic where emotions run high.
But we simply cannot carry on willing the end of more homes without finding the means to provide them. Would we rather have homes that our young people can afford to buy or rent, or are we happier for scrappy plots of ungreen land to remain wrongly designated as Green Belt just because of the potential furore that de-designation may cause?
I believe it is a fight worth having.
That’s why I’m calling for all non-green Green Belt land within 45 minutes of London zone 1 and a 10 minute walk from a train station to be de-designated and given first refusal for housing.
And I’m not alone. Along with politicians, academics, economists, charities and housing associations, we will be submitting a group response to the Ministry of Housing’s National Planning Policy Framework consultation this Thursday because, regardless of our differing political views, we all believe that the answer to our housing crisis is more homes.
We can argue about the tenure later and if you were to see the signatories to my submission you would see that this will definitely be a topic of debate, but the reality is the 128,000 children currently in temporary accommodation cannot wait another decade for rubbish tips, scrubland and car washes to become available for housebuilding.
My submission is on the homepage of my website for you to read.
If you agree with me, please consider signing it before Thursday’s deadline by writing to me at email@example.com.
The time for words is over. The time for action is now.
Read more: Seize the chance for radical housing reform