Is it time the debate about the Green Belt got specific? It may have a part to play in solving the housing crisis, but only if we can make the really hard site-by-site decisions about where. This post aims to help start that debate on specifics, with a map you can explore.
Green Belts originated around London, to stop sprawl. But the blanket designation means much of the land protected has little other merit, and some might actually be a good sustainable location for development, well served by public transport.
I’ve mapped areas of London Green Belt within 800 metres of an existing Tube, tram or train station – roughly equating to a 10 minutes walk. And I’ve excluded areas with other designations – so none of the areas highlighted are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSSI, ancient woodland, nature reserves, Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas.
So we’re left with nearly 20,000 hectares of accessible green belt in and around London. That doesn’t mean all the sites on this map should be developed. Some are well-used local parks with valuable public access, some have high-profile existing uses (Epsom Downs racecourse for instance), some will have other constraints. But for the rest, we should be asking what are the costs of keeping this designation, and is it a price worth paying?
Those at the wrong end of the housing crisis – people struggling to afford adequate housing, forced to rent and share, with incomes squeezed by housing costs – they might quite reasonably feel a sense of moral outrage at the sight of tubes and trains busy serving fields and golf courses. Should accessible land (expensively served by subsidised public transport) be so carefully protected from providing people with much-needed homes?
This isn’t a question that can be solved in the abstract – “let London grow” vs “save our countryside”. The truth is some land should be protected, some shouldn’t, and we ought to ask ourselves: are the boundaries we’ve drawn (often many decades ago), still exactly correct in every case?
So let’s move the debate onto specifics. Click on the Google map below to take a look around. And share your thoughts – which of these sites should be the prime candidates for release, or which must continue to be protected no matter what?
Update, 17/06/14. Thanks to @geographyjim for prompting me to calculate how much of this accessible green belt is within the Greater London boundary. The answer is around 2,850 hectares. A higher than normal proportion of that is valuable parks with public access, but there’s still a fair chunk of agriculture, and of course more golf…