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Building On The Green Belt Is No Solution To The Housing Crisis | Letters

Your interview with Tony Juniper raises two important points about why current government policies are neither solving the housing crisis nor effectively safeguarding countryside in the green belt for future generations (England’s nature chief calls for building on green belt to solve housing crisis, 18 November).

Building in harmony with nature should be supported. But the new homes being built are doing little to address the housing crisis. Targeting the countryside for expensive, executive homes is wrong and counterproductive.

Around 5% of all new housing is built on land that is current or former greenfield land in the green belt. But only about 5% of this is social housing and consistently less low-cost housing overall is delivered in new developments – whether in the green belt or elsewhere – than local councils think is needed.

Second, only 28% of all farmland in England’s green belts is covered by the environmental improvement schemes that Natural England administers, compared with 42% of all farmland in England. That’s why we should aim to improve the green belt through a cross-government land use strategy for England.

Paul Miner

Head of policy and planning, CPRE, the Countryside Charity

Tony Juniper’s suggestion that “building on the green belt should be part of the UK’s answer to the housing crisis” may be right. More homes will help ease demand wherever you build them. But where we build them matters. If we construct thousands of homes in the green belt – around the peripheries of towns and cities – and don’t connect them with reliable and affordable public transport networks, then we are not encouraging people to use public transport.

There are 33m cars on the road today, accounting for about 15% of the UK’s annual carbon emissions. We know that busy roads divide communities, roadside emissions cause death and disease, and car‑congested urban centres drag down wellbeing and mental health.

It’s time we began reconfiguring our cities to benefit the people who live there. Birmingham unveiled its “green ring” initiative this year, and dozens of towns and cities are exploring concepts such as “walking neighbourhoods”.

If we build homes on the green belt, we’re doing our towns and cities a disservice by evacuating people to the peripheries and asking them to drive everywhere. Let’s create new homes where people need them most within our urban centres, and take advantage of the public transport networks, infrastructure and amenities already in place.

Tom Slater

Founding director, T2S Architecture

Tony Juniper’s proposal sounds quite plausible in the way he suggests combining an improvement of urban green space with the protection of wildlife habitats. The big caveat, however, is that with a barely regulated construction industry bent on profit at any price, such a sensitive approach to development and land usage could never be delivered. Without a government that ensures land ceases to be a means of profitable speculation, taking up Juniper’s suggestion would only be a recipe for disaster. It would result in ever more shoddy housing swamping our already overstressed green spaces. Only a radical national policy to develop equitable land usage, giving equal weight to housing needs and environmental concerns could begin to address the housing crisis.

John Green

London

Tony Juniper misunderstands the fundamental purpose of green belts. They were introduced to prevent the coalescence of towns and cities, thereby avoiding the repetition of the vast conurbations that emerged at the time of the Industrial Revolution and thereafter; environmental and nature protection were secondary concerns.

This is why the new towns in south-east England were developed beyond the green belt to prevent the continued urban sprawl of London, which would have solved neither housing or social problems, nor adequately protected the natural environment.

Bill and Penny Boydell

Painswick, Gloucestershire

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