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Government / Local politics

The government’s plan to build on brownfield sites in the greenbelt is welcome. But it needs to go further

A new consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework includes a proposal to allow small scale developments on green belt land. It suggests that brownfield sites within the green belt should be considered in the same way as other brownfield land – providing they deliver Starter Homes, and subject to local consultation.

Already the proposal has sparked opposition from rural campaign groups, who fear any development on green belt land – despite the fact that this change would lead to just 0.1 per cent of it being considered for housing. This reminds me of the struggle local authorities face in trying to get the houses they need built. As the Chancellor reminds us: “Everyone is in theory, in favour [of new homes], but no one wants them near them.”

However, as our research shows, we will not build the houses needed to meet demand if opportunities for development in the green belt are ignored. And this will continue to have significant economic impacts on the most productive cities in the UK.

A map of useable green belt land near transport links in southern England. Click to expand. 

Although it is only a small step, we welcome the proposal for local authorities to consider building some of the homes that are needed on brownfield land within the greenbelt. But the stipulations – that it must be for starter homes, and on previously developed land – prevents planners from evaluating the best location for the new homes that are needed.

To build the homes we need in the cities that need them we must go further. Our research found that developing just 5.2 per cent of the green belt around the ten least affordable cities in the UK could supply 1.5m new homes close to train stations.


The consultation does highlight the potential of increasing the density of homes close to train stations – but to be truly effective it must extend this to all land including the green belt. It’s time to consider land for housing on its merits, rather than its previous designation.

Edward Clarke is an analyst at the Centre for Cities.

This article originally appeared on the think tank’s blog.
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