Any discussion over Britain’s Green Belt is bound to spark a lively discussion, and last Thursday’s panel event did not disappoint.
NLA’s first event of 2023, in partnership with SEC Newgate, considered whether the development of London’s Green Belt needed a rethink. David Scane, Director of SEC Newgate’s advocacy local team, moderated the debate, which saw a panel of expert speakers deliver passionate cases both in favour and against the motion.
Prior to the start of the debate, members of the audience were encouraged to vote on a ‘yes’/no’ response to the question of whether Britain’s Green Belt should be developed. A majority of 56% agreed with the motion, compared to 44% who voted against.
Fiona Sibley, Director of Town Planning at BDP, kicked off the debate with a spirited case for Green Belt development to solve London’s housing crisis. She criticised the current protections, claiming that the 84-year-old system was “archaic, outdated and unfair” and had constituted a failure of sustainable growth and social justice.
Issues were also raised in relation to way in which the Green Belt curbs London’s growth, leading to the “privileging of certain parts of society”, namely property homeowners, over young people who struggled to get onto the property ladder. A plea was made for “a fundamental rethink of bad politics” to begin the long road of solving London’s housing crisis.
Ben Derbyshire, Chair at HTA Design LLP, also advocated for a rethink in Green Belt policy to ensure sustainable wellbeing, an objective that he argued was “previously envisioned by the policy’s founders”. In particular, he advocated for a tightened criteria – referred to as a” green, blue, and grey approach” – to reduce carbon emissions and enhance a “sustainable relationship between the built and unbuilt environment.”
The case against developing London’s Green Belt was taken up by Rachel Owens, Head of Sustainability at Buckley Gray Yeoman, who defended the existing protections as “an enabler of social and environmental justice”. She also claimed that Green Belt development failed to guarantee affordable housing for first time buyers.
This sentiment was echoed by Alice Roberts, Head of Campaigns at CPRE London, who introduced a 10-point plan, which included the argument that Green Belt development delivered expensive homes to the detriment of addressing demand. When asked about ways to alleviate the housing crisis, she encouraged an increased focus on brownfield sites to deliver over 1.2 million homes and the greater densification of urban centres.
An area on which all speakers agreed was the need to prioritise finding solutions to existing issues, including the need to retrofit around 19 million homes, before any discussion of Green Belt development. Other proposals put forward included the Government recommitting to mass council home building, akin to programmes undertaken by the Macmillan Government.
Following the debate, a second vote revealed that opinion within the audience had changed, with 59% voting against the motion, compared to 41% voting in favour.
Regardless of their position on the motion, all four speakers agreed that a desperate solution was required to resolve the astronomical prices of London’s overinflated housing market. The question as to whether the solution to this problem lies in developing the Green Belt appears to have been settled, for now.