1. Built environment
November 16, 2017updated 29 Jul 2021 9:46am

This map shows quite how much of London’s green belt is off limits to Londoners

By Jonn Elledge

One of the reasons, I think, that people feel so strongly about the need to protect London’s green belt is because they like the sense they have access to open space. Building homes on the green belt, it is assumed, will reduce the area of green fields and parkland available for the average Londoner to visit.

This is largely – and sadly – nonsense, as the map above shows. The work of long-time friend of CityMetric, Quod’s Barney Stringer, it shows exactly how little of London’s green belt is actually open to Londoners.

In all, the green belt covers 22 per cent of land within Greater London. (That’s just a fraction of it, of course: it stretches deep into the neighbouring counties, and just 7 per cent of it is in London itself.)

Click for a bigger version. Or click here for a really big version, off-site.

Yet only the areas in dark green are actually accessible, in the sense you can actually visit it rather than just looking at it from a car window: a few chunks on the north east edge of the capital and down south near to Croydon, some smaller patches around Enfield or Barnet, but remarkably little out west in Hillingdon. Most of the rest is private land: golf courses, farmland, and so on.

Ironically, the green belt might actually be reducing the area of green space available to Londoners. The last couple of decades have seen a fair number of school playing fields succumb to the concrete, and as the Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy is fond of saying, the current rules protect “wasteland and car parks” in outer London, but not parks and playing fields in the inner city.

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Incidentally, the blue dots on Barney’s map are stations and the red ones bus stops. In a few places, you can see quite how close to transport links undeveloped land lies.

I’ve vandalised the north eastern corner of Barney’s lovely map to show the Central and District lines, as well as TfL Rail (in violet; soon to become Crossrail) and an outer branch of the Overground, to show how close to open space they actually get.

Many of these sites will be pretty, or flood-prone, or otherwise inappropriate for houses, of course: I’m not saying we should build on all them. I’m just saying, it may be worth taking the time to check.

And as for the rest, well, maybe we can turn it into parks. Or at least replace some of those playing fields, eh?

UPDATE, 1330hrs: Okay, I’m getting an unusual amount of push back on this one. Some of its silly, or just plain wrong. Some of it is things I disagree with for reasons I’ve articulated before, but perhaps didn’t communicate very well in the article above, so may well come back to at some point soon. (You lucky people.)

But there’s one point I’ve seen a few people make where, annoyingly, they’re kind of right. It’s this:

This is a fair point, and means I’ve over-stated my case above. Much of the land coloured light green on the map above will be farms and golf courses and pony clubs and other private land – but there will be routes you can walk through, within certain strictly defined limits. That clearly does have a utility for many people: having walked the London LOOP, I’ve used many of those paths myself.

Personally, I don’t think that’s enough. The fact 22 per cent of London is green belt is a significant factor in the city’s housing shortage, a problem which is making life incredibly difficult for a significant proportion of people who live in this city. “Well you can enjoy the view of my golf course, so long as you stick to these strictly defined paths,” doesn’t seem to be enough to make up for that.

All the same, though, my implication that the light green bits were entirely off limits was a bit much.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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