Monday 6 February 2017 8:58 pm

Green belt reform drops off the agenda as ministers issue long-awaited housing proposals

Ministers have steered away from a liberalisation of building on so-called green belt land, despite acknowledging the worsening housing crisis in many parts of the country.

The government had been expected to introduce reforms to free up protected land, but proposals released today after months of delay have instead abandoned any reference to easing restrictions.

Instead, Sajid Javid's long-awaited housing white paper says ministers will “reaffirm this government's commitment to the green belt”.

Read More: Foundations of the long-awaited housing white paper are still being laid

Institute of Economic Affairs director general Mark Littlewood said: "It's disappointing that the government is still failing to tackle the root cause of Britain's broken housing market – a lack of supply.

“The only surefire way to bring down housing costs is to relax our highly restrictive planning laws. Not all greenbelt land need be sacrosanct so it's a shame to see politics trump sensible economics."

And Adam Smith Institute executive director Sam Bowman added: "Only a tiny amount of the UK's green belt would need to be freed up – less than two per cent to give us room for more than a million new homes. Britain has some of the smallest and most expensive homes in Europe, and a family-friendly Conservative government must create space for new homes to be built by the private sector."

Read More: Whisper it, but government might just take on the housing Nimbys and win

The launch of the paper was mired in delay amid rumours of concerns from Tory backbenchers around radical planning changes and potential green belt development, with one senior Tory telling City A.M. last week that cabinet members had "taken fright" at some of the earlier proposals.

The paper introduces a consultation on new methods to calculate housing demand, with local authorities expected to produce a realistic plan every five years.

In addition, it seeks to tackle the gap in the numbers of planning permissions granted and homes completed by requiring developers to begin work on sites within two years, not three, when planning permission is granted. Builders will also be expected to provide more information about the pace of housing delivery.

Read More: Housing white paper: Deregulation and council targets are not enough

Along with widely-trailed measures to support renters, the government's plan also references previously announced policies such as a £3bn home building fund, the ability to use savings to buy a first time home through the Lifetime ISA, and a continued drive to help local authorities utilise empty homes.

Announcing the plans later today, Javid will say: “The housing market in this country is broken and the solution means building many more houses in the places that people want to live.”

“The only way to halt the decline in affordability and help more people onto the housing ladder is to build more homes. Let’s get Britain building.”

Labour's shadow housing minister John Healey last night blasted the offering as “feeble beyond belief”.

Duncan Stott from PricedOut, a group that campaigns for more affordable housing, said: “The green belts that choke our most unaffordable cities are in serious need of review. Much of the green belt is not beautiful, not biodiverse, and often not even green.

Stott added "Today's white paper offered a golden opportunity [but]… it feels like the government has chosen to listen to the petty concerns of NIMBYs rather than stand up for the priced out generation.”