14 August 2018

Should we build on the green belt to solve the housing crisis?

Liz Truss is the latest in a long line of politicians to suggest that building houses on the green belt is necessary to solve the housing crisis. The Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk thinks that building thousands of new homes in the countryside is the answer to all our housing problems. Firstly, I don’t agree that there is a housing crisis and I certainly don’t agree that building houses in the countryside is a good idea.

House builders, of course, love building houses in the countryside because it’s easier than building them in towns and cities on brown field sites and so they make more profit. Profit being the primary and probably the sole driver for any house builder, they would build houses on green fields all day long if they got the chance. House builders form a very powerful business lobby, however, and this is why ministers continually suggest concreting over the green belt.
The reason it’s such folly to build homes in the countryside comes down to our need to protect the environment. We are told that unless we get a grip on CO2 emissions during the next 20 to 30 years we are going to have to deal with the consequences of an over-heated planet, parts of which are going to become increasingly uninhabitable in the future. Therefore, any new homes must be built in towns and cities in close proximity to jobs, schools and other amenities. Most new homes today are built in out of town locations with at least two cars parked outside each house. Here in Norfolk the vast majority of residents in new houses converge in their cars on the nearest town or to Norwich on a daily basis. This is clearly not desirable from a traffic congestion point of view and it certainly conflicts totally with the Government’s supposed commitment to the Paris accord on climate change.

There are other practical issues such as lack of public services, school places, broadband access, electricity generation capacity, mains gas supply and water resources, to name but a few, that make big out of town housing developments totally unsustainable.

So why do we need houses in the countryside? We don’t. We do need some homes in urban areas and these should be small, efficient and affordable units. The sole reason we need more houses in the first place is because successive governments think it’s a good idea to increase our population. It’s time this government got a grip on the true nature of our housing requirements and stopped caving in to vested interest groups.