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Experts call for a sensible approach to development on Green Belt land

Restrictions on the development of Green Belt land must be relaxed if we are to stand any chance of meeting demand for housing in London and the South East two experts have warned. Christine Whitehead, Professor of Housing in the Department of Economics at LSE, and June Barnes, Group Chief Executive at East Thames Group, were speaking at the 'We need to talk about Housing' seminar hosted by Pellings LLP. The evening, chaired by Richard Claxton, Chairman of Pellings LLP, commenced with a poll of the 200 strong audience on the root cause of the much publicised 'housing crisis'. Over 48% of the audience cited supply as the primary cause, ahead of other options including affordability, finance and confidence; a statistic that set the scene for the topical and thought-provoking debate that followed.

Whilst both housing experts were in agreement that initiatives are needed to stimulate the delivery of more housing in the area, they held differing views on the extremity of the situation. Prof Whitehead acknowledged that housing supply is a key issue that needs tackling, but urged people to exercise perspective, "at any one time, 80% plus of the UK population are really well housed, and another 10% are perfectly adequately housed," she argued. The challenge over the next few years will be to help young people living in multi-adult households, to form new households at a time where we are battling to "house four generations not three, which really will take some doing", she said.

June Barnes was in no doubt that we are facing up to a deepening housing crisis, and offered some pragmatic suggestions to meet the challenge; ranging from land tax and helping people downsize, to the creation of hostels for weekday workers. She called for a holistic view of our housing stock, particularly in London, stating that, "as a landlord you look at all of your stock, however, as London, we simply don't do that". June believes that this high level view would enable us to understand that increasing density need not mean inflicting high rise tower blocks on areas, or building on municipal space. She argued that with land at a premium, areas of London dominated by poorly constructed 1920's and 1930's housing could easily double in density and deliver a "sustainable suburb" that provides quality homes and communities. This, she said, would also help relieve the density in existing inner city areas.

It was the topic of Green Belt Land however, that the speakers were unanimously agreed upon. Professor Whitehead cited that the size of the Green Belt has doubled over the past 20 years and continues to grow. She urged us to learn lessons from other countries such as Korea who have recently downgraded 27 out of 28 areas equivalent to our Green Belt, in order to tackle challenges similar to those that we are facing in the UK.

June Barnes went on to tell the audience of housing professionals that she believed the Green Belt to be "a constricting factor in terms of making London work properly". She believes that with current land availability as it is in London, a coordinated and controlled plan with regards to permitting development on Green Belt Land is the only way we will be able to deliver the homes that are needed in the long-term. June argued that the public perception of Green Belt land is a far cry from reality, with large parts suffering from "poor access", and used for "storage and anti-social purposes". Sensible development, she believes, could create new communities, with the more unsightly areas of Green Belt land rejuvenated to provide, "managed parkland with a revenue stream attached to it". However, for this to happen she warned it will require more than just a change in planning policy, it will also require a shift in Local Authority and public attitudes towards building new homes within their communities.

The seminar took place at the Cavendish Conference Centre on Tuesday 1st October. The views expressed on the evening were those of the speakers and not any of the organisations they are associated with.

For copies of the presentation from the evening including the results of the audience participation survey click here.

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