Green Belt policy turns 60 years old today.
London has enjoyed a formal Green Belt since 1938, but it was 3 August 1955 when Housing Minister Duncan Sandys rolled out the policy across England. You can see a copy of the original circular here.
In the past 60 years, the Green Belt has played an important role in helping to limit suburban sprawl and assisting urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land. The policy has become the planning envy of the world. It remains popular with the public; a new poll released today for the Campaign to Protect Rural England finds huge support and that only 17 per cent of respondents want to build on it.
See where Green Belt is near you on this interactive map.
Yet, in some circles, the tide is turning. There have been calls to build on Green Belt land, with some arguing that the housing crisis necessitates opening up new land to accommodate London’s rapidly growing population.
I don’t think we need to do this. London has around 4,000 hectares of brownfield land, enough for about a third of a million homes. Building on brownfield may be slightly more costly to developers, but it’s well worth it for society: it often regenerates areas and produces more sustainable development that is closer to existing infrastructure and established neighbourhoods. Those who advocate building on Green Belt rightly point out that this is not enough. But that misses the point: if Green Belt land lost its protection, developers wouldn’t build on both green and brownfield land simultaneously but would instead leapfrog over the more expensive brownfield and litter our Green Belt with unsustainable executive homes that do little to address the housing crisis.
Yet the debate continues. Green Belt policy may turn 60 years old today, but there is no guarantee that it will last another 60. That’s why I will remain a committed advocate of protecting this important planning tool, and will continue to argue for regenerating our existing urban areas before we even start to think about paving over the wonder of the planning world.