Britain’s population is growing, and people need to live somewhere. We can build up, or we can build out. We can’t rely on regenerating former manufacturing sites, because there aren’t enough of them – particularly where housing is most needed. If we don’t built anywhere, prices will shoot up, and lots of people will end up in desperate straits. And although some people like Manhattan, most people prefer to live in a house with a garden. Since seven-eighths of Britain is still green, we have plenty to go round. Much of this land is Green Belt – mainly intensive agriculture, with no public access. Using a sliver of that – say 1 per cent of undeveloped land – would mean all of us could be properly housed. Would it really be the end of the world if only 86 per cent of England was green space, instead of 87 per cent?
Tim Leunig is chief economist at CentreForum, the liberal think tank.
George Osborne is calling for “swaps” of Green Belt land. Land within the Belt could be built on, in exchange for the designation being extended to cover other land further out. But do we really need to do this? We need much more new housing. But there is enough previously-developed brownfield land in England for 1.5m new homes, and more becomes available all the time. It should not be necessary to build on Green Belt land. The reality is we are building too little housing because the market has collapsed and public subsidy has been slashed. House builders might like to build in the Green Belt, but that does not mean they would build more homes overall. Green Belts keep towns and cities as distinct places, drive their regeneration, and safeguard real countryside on the doorstep of millions of people.
Paul Miner is senior planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.