The announcement of the new London Mayor earlier this month came with the hope of a positive move towards tackling London’s worsening housing crisis.
Sadiq Khan promised that housing would be his number one concern, however worries were raised that neither candidates’ policies properly addressed the demand, because neither factored in the need to look to London’s Green Belt land to answer many of the problems.
The mayoral policies addressed the idea of redeveloping brownfield sites, which would help, but, while over 350,000 homes could be built on brownfield land within the Greater London Authority area, it’s a tricky, time-consuming and costly process, which wouldn’t give the immediate solution that is needed.
It has been argued that in order to offer a real solution to the crisis, ways must be found to make use of some of London’s Green Belt land and satisfy the city’s need to build more than what the brownfield sites can offer.
The size of London’s Green Belt has more than doubled in the last 25 years. Under the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework), the five purposes of it are:
• To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
• To prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
• To assist in safeguard the countryside from encroachment
• To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns, and
• To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land
While such locations are often unsustainable in terms of infrastructure and connection to existing settlements, developers often prefer Green Belt sites as they can be cheaper to develop than brownfield with the absence of constraints such as contamination and impact on existing neighbouring buildings.
Green Belt land also comes with the potential to deliver more affordable housing than brownfield sites in the urban area and much of London’s Green Belt land may not serve its purpose and would benefit from review.
In the past Green Belt land has been criticised for reducing the availability of building land to satisfy the growing need and as a result being responsible for shocking London housing prices, which have pushed young professionals out of the city and led to an increase in people only able to rent.
According to a UK economic outlook report by PwC, in 2000 almost 60 per cent of Londoners owned the home they lived in, while 40 per cent rented. By 2025, this situation will have reversed and 60 per cent of Londoners will be renting from private landlords.
By only restricting building to brownfield land, it could only offer half of the housing required and when added to policies which look to higher affordable housing contributions, many fear that it would only lead to ineffective housing and further expense. A start, but a drop in the ocean towards housing a population which soared past its peak of 8.6 million last year and is predicted to exceed 11 million by 2040.
While no one would suggest developing on all of the Green Belt land, or even a majority of it, analysis by the Centre for Cities suggests that more than 430,000 homes could be built close to stations on only two per cent of London’s Green Belt.
Other options could be to review the status of under performing land in the Green Belt or to implement the National Infrastructure Commission’s plan to deliver 200,000 new homes around improved transport hubs.
Figures show that 50,000 new houses must be built in the London area each year for the next ten years to meet demand, so whichever way it goes, it’s going to be a tough job to tackle. We hope that Mr Khan can be the David to London’s Goliath.