July 2019

IEA report calls for reclassification of green belt land to prioritise proximity to transport hubs

Vectos is pleased to see another report advocating the structured release of suitable green belt land, and goes further to say that preference for declassification should start with the propensity for local living, and reduction in urban and rural vulnerability, and that proximity to mass transit hubs is not always the panacea for appropriate locations.

The recent Raising the Roof: How to Solve the United Kingdom’s Housing Crisis report by the Institute of Economic Affairs calls on Central Government for green belt land to be ‘selectively declassified’ by categorising where green belt land has become low quality and that green belt land near transport hubs should be a declassification priority.

The report makes bold, but substantiated claims that the housing crisis is a catastrophe and the UK’s most serious economic problem. It estimates there has been a shortfall below the desirable level of new-build housing of 2.5 million since 1992. So, when the solution is so simple why has the Government failed to adopt this sensible approach?

Vectos Managing Director Mike Axon says he’s pleased to see that sites in green belt land are still coming forward if they are suitable, but it would be sensible to take a more structured approach, including beyond that which the report sets out.

“Avoiding developing on sites solely because they are in the green belt can be to the detriment of local, sustainable and socially inclusive living. If there is an environmental reason for strategic sites not to come forward, then through the planning process they won’t, regardless of location. Similarly, if there is good reason to bring a strategic site forward, its location in a green belt shouldn’t be the primary impediment,” he said.

“By developing on less than 4% of London’s green belt, 1 million houses could be constructed – a significant step to alleviating the current housing crisis. Indeed, much of the green belt comprises low grade fields that are unpopular with the public but ideally suited for housing development because of their existing or potential mobility characteristics.

“Creating local living, and economic conduits to national hubs is an excellent place to start. If we re-classified the sites in these locations, we could review them on a case-by-case basis, considering the design, choice, behaviour and management opportunities; and then weigh the demands and effects appropriately in the context of modern planning policy.

“Housing in London’s Green Belt can be sustainable and can contribute to an improvement in transport sustainability and ‘wellbeing’ for the entire community, not just the growth area. The suggestions the report makes to re-classify these sites is a sensible and sustainable approach that we strongly support.”

However, Mike said that developing close to existing transport hubs is too simplistic, and indeed that mass transit connections, whilst one of maybe twenty characteristics of benefit, are not in themselves crucial to sustainable new development. In particular, modern transport planning considers all of mobility across the entirety of the day, in which there is now virtual mobility, active mobility, shared travel as well as private car travel.

“Usually 60% – 70% of movement will be contained locally in a well-designed community,” he said.

“In the UK Vectos brings schemes into fruition by firstly understanding the intergeneration response to mobility and then using design and masterplanning as the central principles of good transport planning and mobility. This combines high-quality local living, modern travel choices, behavioural education and network management, to ensure that the travel patterns for new strategic development are far removed from the unsustainable travel patterns of the past.

“It is important that we combine comprehensive planning with sensible policy which protects valuable land to ensure we develop the country is a sustainable way, while meeting the housing demands of the future. Green belt protection as we know it needs to be revisited with a sensible approach as the IEA report suggests.”