Green Belt: Saying The Un-sayable

I was very impressed with some thinking by Mark Brinkley - contributing editor to Homebuilding & Renovating magazine and himself a builder - on the vexed subject of building homes on the Green Belt.

Debate around this has normally been very black and white between, on one side, local residents and conservationists (you may call them NIMBYs, but I couldn’t possibly do so) and volume developers on the other side (you may call them identikit house builders, but I...etc, etc). But Brinkley’s view, which is set out in the latest issue of the magazine and deserves wide circulation, is much more nuanced.

He says:

- some farmers are exempted from Green Belt building because of diversification or employment arguments which favour conversions of old barns into homes;

- large tracts have in the past been designated as new towns or urban extensions, so to say the Green Belt is always inviolable is inaccurate.

He then says more controversially:

- villages have often been unable to expand organically in response to local demand, meaning supply has been outpaced, prices have risen, and locals have been forced out;

- the Community Right to Build initiative (exhaustively trailed by the government and in theory giving villages the right to determine applications) may rarely be used because the required referenda will be expensive to organise and perhaps doomed to failure;

- so as a consequence, there should be Individual (not community) Right To Build, allowing individual self-builders to construct on village-edge plots in the Green Belt;

- the ‘development windfall’ produced from each self-builder’s project would go to the community, as in the government scheme, but the human scale of an individual home, or small number of them on a plot, would be more likely to win local community approval.

I am not completely convinced that the Green Belt has, as Brinkley puts it, “strangled the life out of many villages” but undoubtedly the mismatch between demand and supply is causing huge damage and if self-build is to be encouraged (as the government insists it is being) then this is a way forward.

More importantly, perhaps, it makes people look in a more sophisticated way at a staple of British planning - the Green Belt - which has until now been off-limits for serious public debate.

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