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UK Government to push ahead with more new home building on brown belt land

The UK Government is to provide more for new home building with developments being fast tracked on brown belt land such as abandoned shopping centres, derelict rail stations and run down town centres.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced details of a £5 billion fund to help build more than 250,000 homes with £2 billion going on building roads and other infrastructure so new building can go ahead, £1 billion on loans to small building companies to kick-start construction and £2billion to be spent on using surplus land owned by the State for fast track building projects.

‘Tackling the housing shortfall isn’t about political expediency. It’s a moral duty. And it’s one that falls on all of us.
‘Not just in Parliament, but in business, in local government and in our communities. So my message today is clear: it’s time to get building,’ he said in a speech at the Conservative Party conference.

‘This Conservative Government is getting on with the job of building a country that works for everyone. We’ve made great progress fixing the broken housing market we inherited from Labour, but now is the time to go further. We want to ensure everyone has a safe and secure place to live and that means we’ve got to build more homes. It is only by building more houses that we will alleviate the financial burden on those who are struggling to manage,’ he added.

He wants to put in place enhanced planning powers to allow houses and flats to be on brown belt land with the aim of having more than 25,000 new homes by 2020 and up to 225,000 in the longer term. Developers will be encourage to accelerate the construction process by using pre-built homes which are widely used in other parts of Europe.

But some concerns have been raised about the policy and the ability for targets to be met with some experts saying that the only way enough homes will be built is to also use green belt land which is not earmarked for construction but which many believe should be used such is the extent of the housing crisis.

Among those calling for green belt land to be used is the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). ‘We are highly supportive of the Government’s plans to fund the building of more than 200,000 houses and that it is considering using brownfield sites for this purpose. Maybe this is also the time to be building on green field sites, as we have been calling for this for some time. We believe it is the only way that we will be able to deliver the number of houses that we really need to meet demand and help first time buyers on to the housing ladder,’ said NAEA managing director Mark Hayward.

‘However, we have some concerns when it comes to delivery, and wonder whether the plans will actually be feasible. It’s all very well releasing land and providing the finance to build new homes, but if the infrastructure and labour isn’t there to turn bricks and mortar into homes, it simply won’t be do-able. We now need the detail and clearer plans on how this will work in practice,’ he added.

According to Christian Faes, chief executive officer of online mortgage lender LendInvest, relying on large house builders to deliver the homes need is doomed to failure so help for smaller builders will be welcome in the industry.

‘For too long, accessing funding for their projects has been simply too difficult, with the big banks not interested or too constrained to help. According to the NHBC Foundation, 22% of small developers describe obtaining finance as a major challenge. This fund is a terrific step towards addressing that funding gap and ensuring we improve the number of homes built in the UK,’ he explained.

‘However, helping them to pick up the house building slack will take more than money alone. The Government must act immediately to make land more accessible to them, as well as supporting measures which will ensure they develop the skillset they need to make a success of their projects,’ he added.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general also welcomed the news for smaller home builders and pointed out that many have struggled to recover since the last recession. ‘A vibrant and healthy housing market will help young people get on and move up the ladder, but also mean employees can live closer to their workplaces.
It will be equally important to build the right kind of homes, by looking not only to home ownership but also the private rental sector and affordable housing,’ she said.

Land agent Aston Mead believes that it is inevitable that new homes will need to be built on green belt land and said that those who campaign to keep it construction free need to accept that some of it will have to be used.

‘It is important to correct the misconception that green belt land has an inherent ecological or agricultural value, it doesn’t. Nor was it chosen because it has natural beauty or protected wildlife,’ said Aston Mead land and planning director Adam Hesse.

‘The truth is that there are different grades of green belt out there, some of which should be protected at all costs. But there’s a lot of what I call grubby greenbelt, especially around road junctions and train stations, which most people would be surprised to discover was even considered to be green belt in the first place,’ he pointed out.

He gave as an example some green belt land in Surrey near junction 11 of the M25 which he suggests contains all the right ingredients for planning permission to be obtained, and is a prime contender for the sort of location where new homes might even enhance the area.

‘There are over 20 acres of grubby green belt there, all rather uninspiring as it stands, but big enough for over 200 homes. It’s within walking distance of Addlestone station, there are hundreds of existing homes nearby, and the network of roads around it would prevent further development once it was built. Most people wouldn’t even realise this is green belt land and few people would miss it if it was built on,’ he said.

‘The idea of creating protected ribbons of land around our major urban areas is an outdated and failed experiment. Instead of preventing urban sprawl, the green belt has pushed house building into genuinely valuable parts of the countryside that really should be protected. All of which has meant longer commuting times, increased expense and more pollution,’ he pointed out.

‘In effect, green belts now act as walls which confine urban dwellers at increasingly higher densities and are partly the reason why house prices are out of reach for so many. This country is already prioritising development on brown field land, and it’s expected that 90% of such sites will have planning permission by 2020. But if we are going to solve this country’s housing crisis, some building on green belt land is now inevitable,’ he concluded.

But the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) is not in favour of such a move and suggests that too much green belt is already being built on. Its research says that green belt boundaries are being changed to accommodate housing at the fastest rate for two decades.

In the year to 2015, some 11 local authorities finalised boundary changes to accommodate development. The 275,000 houses now planned are an increase of 25% on 2015, and almost double the 147,000 houses outlined for green belt in 2009 regional plans.

It believes that under pressure from Government to set and meet high housing targets, councils are releasing green belt for new development through a misappropriated ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause.

‘Councils are increasingly eroding the green belt to meet unrealistic and unsustainable housing targets. We need stronger protection for the green belt, not just supportive words and empty promises. To build the affordable homes young people and families need, the Government should empower councils to prioritise the use of brown field sites. Brownfield land is a self-renewing resource that can provide at least one million new homes,’ said Paul Miner, CPRE planning campaign manager.