Unlocking England Green Belt

Critical Review of Literature

England’s green belt (GB) is where close to a population of 30 million go to when they need to get away from the busy streets and experience a more laid-back atmosphere. However, lately, there has been a heated debate over its benefits and whether it is even necessary, especially in the wake of the housing crisis that is taking toll of England (Aslet, 2010). Ideally, these critics have relied on the daunting statistics of housing shortage released by several players in UK’s housing industry to make their case against the GB. For instance, the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs 2015 indicated that to meet the housing demand in England, there needed to be 300,000 new housing units every year, with the figure estimated to be higher in future (Bentley, 2017). Similar statistics have also indicated that in 2014, there was a 1.45 million housing unit’s shortage in England. While comparing this to the reports released by Barker Review (2004) that England was 450,000 short of housing units, the critics claim that there seems to be a worrying trend of increasing housing shortage in England.


Proponents of green belt unlocking also make reference to other reports highlighting the green belt and how it can be used to solve the rising housing crisis in England. For instance, they refer to Kate Baker’s commission of enquiry which pointed out that whereas the general idea of controlling the urban sprawl by use of green belts was a good idea and should be preserved, the housing authorities should be flexible in using their authorities and powers to effect an change in the green belt designations so long as it would prove useful in addressing certain pressure to use land (Barker 2004). Hence, they claim that unlocking the green belt is one of the ways in which this flexibility can be applied to address certain pressure to use the land.

However, a closer review of existing literature reveals contradicting ideas that are worth noting. For instance, Baker (2008) argues that while there are a rapidly growing population and unprecedented growth of consumption, the worsening housing crisis is likely to create a leeway for the return of the urban sprawl in England. Spiers (2018) also argues that while unaffordable housing is emerging to be one of the most prominent factors that prevent families and younger people from living a decent life, constructing new housing units in green belt land may not be the solution to the housing crisis. Ideally, Spiers’ (2018) assertions imply that when green belt lands are released for property construction, the ultimate beneficiaries are wealthy because developers do not build low-cost houses in those areas. In fact, similar observations are made by Waugh (2005) who points out that 84% of houses built on green belt land are meant for the top and middle-class demand, and are unaffordable to most of the population. These assertions corroborate with those of Barker (2014) who claims that the calls to release green held land for housing construction does not provide any solution to the housing crisis, but rather leads to a loss of valuable access to the countryside.

In the 19th and 20th century, there was a consensus that accessing the countryside was as important as accessing other important services such as healthcare and housing (Great Britain, 2009). Consequently, according to Barker (2014), political leaders and social activists such the Octavia Hill were at the forefront in protecting the countryside as important social amenity. In fact, the Green Belt protection and National Parks authorities joined the NHS and other social house building programs in supporting the countryside protection because there was a consensus among them that nature and clean air was as important as shelter and healthcare (Pollock & Motto, 2015).

However, in the 21st century, the green belt has become a target of most solutions seeking to address the housing crisis. According to Baker (2008), the demand for growth has increased so rapidly that people no longer have any concern for the environment, a situation where no one emerges with as a winner. According to Spiers (2018), the current situation leaves people with the option of accepting the trade-off between the countryside and housing, a trade-off that never exists in the context of other social goods and services such as healthcare.

Aslet, (2010) observes that whereas residents of certain cities in the UK such as London live densely populated cities characterised by scarcity of land, other cities such as Barcelona and Paris are less densely populated. Thus, the author makes an argument that there is still much that can be done to the Northern England and the Midlands in terms of development rather than targeting to build more housing units in the greenbelt areas of southern England.

Nonetheless, Pollock & Motto (2015) takes a different perspective and argues that the choric housing problems faced in England result from the poor way in which the country treats its land value and ownership, as well as the dysfunctional free housing market. Thus, according to the authors, unlocking the green belt and taking away access to a natural world is not the solutions to the housing problem. These remarks corroborate with those of Waugh (2005) that previously developed land in Southern England have space for close to one million new homes and that most of this space lies in the urban areas where there are already other infrastructural developments such as better roads, social amenities, entertainment and where people are close to jobs. These are the areas where younger people are seeking to live in. Similarly, Baker (2008) suggests that the brownfield land within Greenland can also be an alternative for housing spaces, yet housing developers still exploit the planning loopholes and pressures to build in the green belts so as to build executive residences for purposes of profit maximization.

This identified exploitation of the green fields has led to suggestions by environmental activists that green belts must be prioritised when planning policies are reviewed. According to Aslet (2010), there is a need for policies that require developers to use nearby the brownfields first before developing the green fields. This implies that the green belt areas should only be unlocked for development as a last resort. These suggestions corroborate with those of Hilliam (2016) that the green belt areas are quite important especially to the health and wellbeing of residents and therefore all must be done to protect them.

While critics of green belt unlocking claim that it might not solve the housing crisis currently faced in England, existing reports indicate the reality in the ground is contrary to these critics’ expectations. For instance, the land use change statistics in England indicated an increase in addresses per hectare within the green belt areas to 21% up from 14% in 2015-2016 (Bentley, 2017). Similar reports indicate 10% of total land designated for green belt changed to residential areas in 2016-2017; hence more green belt designated areas are being encroached by housing developments.

Ultimately, it emerges that whereas there is no controversy over Countryside and Rights of Way Act’s 2000 demand for preservation of areas of natural beauty, a major controversy emerges over the prohibition of developments on green belt designated areas. On the other hand, some scholars have attempted to prove that even if the green belt areas were allowed for housing developments, it would not solve the housing crisis currently facing England. Thus, there is a need to have a deeper inquiry into the issue of greenbelt and whether unlocking the green belt will solve the housing crisis in England. This is the main focus of the proposed study.

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  • Aslet, C. (2010). Villages of britain - the five hundred villages that made the countryside. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2010.
  • Barker, C. (2008). Under New England: the story of new england's rocks and fossils. Lebanon, NH, University Press of New England.
  • Barker, K. (2014). Housing. London, London Publishing Partnership.
  • Barker, K. (2004) A Review of Housing Supply, London Publishing Partnership.
  • Bentley, D. (2017), The Land Question, Fixing the dysfunction at the root of the housing crisis, CIVITAS, London 2017
  • Great Britain. (2009). The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009. Norwich, TSO (The Stationery Office).
  • Hilliam, O. (2016). 22 ideas that saved the english countryside. Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd, 2016.
  • Pollock, S., & Mott, D. (2015). Coaching green belt projects for sustainable success. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: ASQ Quality Press, 2015
  • Spiers, S. (2018). How to build houses and save the countryside. Bristol; Chicago, IL: Policy Press, 2018.
  • Waugh, D. (2005). Geography an integrated approach: supplement to the 3rd ed. Nelson Thornes.

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