Is the Green Belt sustainable?

Accessible Green BeltIs 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…


6 thoughts on “Is the Green Belt sustainable?

  1. Hi. You have included North Weald and Ongar. These are currently served by a part time heritage railway which does not operationally connect to the Central Line. That said, this bit could be reincorporated into the Central again if there was the demand. I suspect that the airfield at North Weald would need to be zoned for housing for this to be worthwhile. This would perhaps be more palatable locally than sacrificing green belt.

  2. I want to buy a piece of land in somebodys back gardens and it has ancient woodland it is only a small plot for a 3 bedroom house why can I not get planning permission

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  4. I’ve had some more suggestions, this time from a Westminster insider who asked to remain anonymous:

    “It is also notable that some of the land near stations is used for industrial use. Take Hersham, for example – which has a storage box self storage, a branch of Screwfix, etc, right next door to the station. I am willing to bet that this land would rise in value quite dramatically if rezoned for housing – particularly if used for relatively high density mansion flats. Is it possible for you to do another map, showing industrial and commercial land that is within 800m of a station?

    There is also land you have not included – next to Tolworth station, for example. That would be a good place to build.

    The Farningham Road/Meopham/Sole St stations do not currently have an economic number of local residents, so look like good bets.

    What about Fleet? A fast train line, and a golf course. And Winchfield and Hook – very high house prices in those areas. Or Tilehurst and Pangbourne – which I imagine must be as close as Henley, time wise?

    The Paddock Wood to Strood line is less useful – it is a slow line, and does not go to London.

    Improving rail speeds would increase the number of stations within (say) 30 minutes, thus increasing the range of places that work.”

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