Ahead of the Building London Summit, London First is highlighting a series of blogs on key issues that will be debated at the flagship event on January 30. In this article, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh writes about why she thinks it is time to review the Green Belt to build more affordable homes.
What do you think of when you hear the words “Green Belt”? Rolling fields? Beautiful vistas? As a nation, we sing “Jerusalem” and get emotional about England’s green and pleasant land. But it’s time to stop the music. It’s time to burst the myth that all Green Belt is actually green, because much of this land isn’t anything to sing about at all.
Of course, the Green Belt is such a remarkably strong brand, that even I was sceptical of any call for de-designation.
Let’s start with some facts. Our country has a housing target of 300,000 new homes per year, a figure that hasn’t been reached since 1969. There are now 1.2 million families across our country on the ever-expanding housing waiting list, but just 6,464 new social homes were built in 2017 – 2018. That’s the second lowest on record at a rate that would take 172 years to give everyone on the current waiting list a social rented home. Meanwhile, there are 83,700 households, including 124,000 children, trapped in temporary accommodation, costing the taxpayer an eye watering £1 billion per year. Every single penny badly spent.
We are undeniably in the heart of a housing crisis. But we can’t simply keep writing more reports and willing the end of more homes without finding the means to provide them.
And so here are the means. The reality of London’s Green Belt is that there are enough non-green sites surrounding our train stations for over 1 million new homes. I’ve already found car washes, scrublands, disused airfields and waste plants all hidden on scrappy plots of non-green so-called Green Belt land across our capital. We have to ask ourselves why we would want to save these eyesores when our country is in such desperate need of more homes.
Of course, truly green sites should be protected. My frustration is not with the parks and hills or areas of environmental protection. It is with the scrappy plots of land in our towns and cities, surrounding railway stations, that nobody in their right mind would see as attractive.
But the question is this. Would we rather have homes that our young people can afford to buy or are we happy for scrappy plots of ungreen land to remain wrongly designated as Green Belt just because of the potential furore that de-designation may cause?
It’s time to grasp the nettle and provide the homes that our country is so desperate for. And if we make this change we will all be able to cry “Jerusalem”.