The Green Belt and the collapse of housebuilding

11 Jul 23

The Housing Secretary meanwhile continues his barrage on housebuilders and is actively responding to backbenchers’ demands for greater Green Belt protections.

.

In PMQ’s on 28th June, Keir Starmer claimed that “housebuilding has collapsed”; a sentiment felt by many in our industry. The target of 300,000 new homes a year has not come close to being reached over the last decade.

The Housing Secretary meanwhile continues his barrage on housebuilders and is actively responding to backbenchers’ demands for greater Green Belt protections. This week, the Home Builders Federation wrote to the Prime Minister urging more support for SME homebuilders after a survey found that 93% of them were considering scaling back. Conversely, the Labour Party has been willing to put its head above the parapet and discuss developing parts of the Green Belt.

These arguments are set to be rehearsed, recited and exaggerated on the doorsteps of Britain circa 15 months from now, especially in those key swing seat areas of high housing demand and high affordable housing need. Take an area such as west Kent, where the Green Belt predominates but the case for strategic development is compelling.
An article published earlier this year claimed that ‘Kent is at the centre of an increasingly antagonistic battle between residents and developers’. The Local Elections heralded the end of the Tories’ 20-year control of Medway Council along with five other councils in Kent; a consequence of general dissatisfaction with the Government, but also an indication of votes against local development.

Nowhere is the Green Belt more contentious than in Sevenoaks or Tonbridge and Malling, where poor land supply positions and low housing delivery is combined with the authorities withdrawing their Local Plans while focusing on protecting the Green Belt.
Data released by Kent County Council this week dispels the myth that Kent is being concreted over. In Tonbridge and Malling and Sevenoaks, only 1.7% and 1.2% of total land has been developed for housing; peaking at 4.2% in Thanet. Staggering numbers in a county bordering Greater London and home to an international station as well as the gateway ferry terminal to France supporting 33% of the UK’s trade with the EU. Not one authority with designated Green Belt has more than 0.5% of its Green Belt land developed for housing.

Kent serves as a microcosm for many other parts of the country. The narrative around building on the Green Belt must change. We must ensure that communities, authorities and developers work together to deliver the right housing in the right places, and understand the implications for future generations if they do not.

This means accepting that difficult decisions need to be made for the greater good, unlocking the infrastructure we need by planning positively for growth. A narrative Labour is hoping to own – but with demand for housing continuing to climb the agenda, the time for change is now.