As the “news” breaks that perhaps nearly one per cent of the enormous green belt surrounding London has been allocated for 200,000 homes, let us ask: who benefits?
News of potential green belt encroachment is the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s best recruiting tool. There is no mystery here. The story was seeded by the London Green Belt Council, a CPRE ally.
London’s metropolitan green belt is four times the entire built-up area of Greater London, or some 500,000 hectares. It is vastly larger than it was when originally created. Meanwhile, housing in the South East has become among the most unaffordable in the world, causing untold damage to living standards, wages, fairness and opportunity.
The green belt doesn’t stop people building hulking, ugly, corrugated metal barns. It doesn’t stop them drowning a field of rapeseed in pesticides. It doesn’t stop them building a viaduct, or a quarry, or an eight lane motorway. It just stops you building homes for the living. Homes for cows, or for the dead, are fine.
If there is a battle between affordable housing and the green belt, the green belt is clearly winning.
Since 1947, we have never grown the national housing stock at the net percentage rate of the 1830s, let alone the far higher rate of the 1930s. The current system has destroyed small builders and left an oligopoly of large firms, expert at gaming the system. So the most cynical interpretation is that CPRE actually benefits from this perpetual siege. Since the green belt was created, the organisation has gone from strength to strength. Touching the green belt is a taboo in the present Government.
If CPRE really wants to remove pressure on the green belt – even if that makes CPRE’s recruiting more difficult – there are plenty of ways to do it.