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  • Mal McCallion

Green Belt Debate: A Battle of NIMBYs vs YIMBYs

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

Exploring the contentious issue of building on the Green Belt and its impact on the UK housing crisis.

This is such an important debate - one that it's great to see Ian Barnett, National Land Director at Leaders Romans Group (LRG), step out and make.

Barnett believes that a sensible discussion on the Green Belt is long overdue. But can we keep our cool amidst the current, highly-polarised political fever?

Firstly, Barnett suggests debunking the image of 'concreting all over the Green Belt'. The notion that housing developments are primarily 'grey' may have been true in the post-war era, but not today. Modern developments have the potential to be attractive, primarily 'green' spaces, significantly boosting both the aesthetic and biodiverse qualities of the land.

Moreover, Barnett argues that the definition of the Green Belt needs revisiting. Contrary to popular belief, the Green Belt isn't a bucolic ring of verdant countryside open to all. Much of it is inaccessible and/or protects unattractive edge-of-settlement brownfield sites – those ripe for sustainable development.

Given the significant changes since the Green Belt was introduced, including the New Towns programmes of the 1960s and 1970s, Barnett advocates for a review of the Green Belt to deliver enough homes in the right places while protecting land that deserves protection.

However, due to the complex and subjective nature of development, Barnett asserts that a Green Belt review can only be delivered through a national or strategic regional plan, led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

Is Green Belt release the only way to increase housing supply? According to Barnett, it's the only way to increase housing numbers at scale while keeping people close to economic centres or sustainable transport.

Barnett emphasises that a review of the Green Belt doesn't necessarily mean a reduction. It means that areas worthy of protection are included, and those not so much – like the car park Starmer referred to – are potentially repurposed, possibly increasing their aesthetic value.

To gain political and public support, Barnett suggests we must reframe the Green Belt based on expansion. With the UK population having grown significantly since the Green Belt was introduced, there's a desperate need for sustainable new settlements.

Barnett believes that Starmer is on the right track in accepting that the Green Belt must be reviewed to address the housing crisis. It's possible to expand the Green Belt overall, while also delivering more homes. But a strategic approach is the only way to achieve this.

I'm in huge agreement with this. For too long we've had to suck up decisions made by generations long ago. We need a grown-up debate about housing supply in this country and this is an important contribution to that.

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