In its latest Green Belt Under Siege report, CPRE - The Campaign to Protect Rural England - reveals that 70% of houses planned for the Green Belt will be unaffordable to those who need them.
Green Belt Popularity
First designated in 1955 to prevent urban sprawl, Green Belts are surprisingly popular. A poll marking the Green Belt’s 60th anniversary demonstrated its widespread support amongst the public.
Green Belt Under Siege
Yet CPRE’s latest Green Belt Under Siege report which combines local and city-regional planning policies with new Glenigan data, shows over 70% of residential development proposals may not be ‘affordable’. Furthermore, only 16% of houses built on Green Belt land since 2009 outside local plans were classed as ‘affordable’.
Biggest Year-on-Year Increase
The 425,000 houses now planned for Green Belt land represents an increase of 54% on March 2016. It is the biggest year-on-year increase in building proposed in the Green Belt for twenty years. North West, West Midlands and South East Green Belt is especially pressurised.
£2.4 Billion ‘Reward’ for Councils
CPRE suggests the ‘New Homes Bonus’ initiative will reward councils with £2.4 billion for this increase, despite Government’s promise to protect Green Belts, but without delivering much-needed affordable homes the funds were designed to encourage.
Rural Affordable Homes in Steep Decline
CPRE recently illustrated that rural affordable housing is in steep decline. It believes Government should help councils build again and help fund genuinely affordable homes, including on small rural sites.
Campaigning & Debating
According to Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy, it is important to look at what housing is currently being planned and where it is being delivered. He claims that:“Green Belt is being lost at an ever faster rate, yet the type of housing being built now or in the future will do very little to address the affordable housing crisis faced by many families and young people. We must not be the generation that sells off our precious Green Belt in the mistaken belief it will help improve the affordability of housing. The only ones set to benefit from future Green Belt development will be landowners and the big housebuilders, not communities in need of decent, affordable housing.”
Greenfield -v- Brownfield
Fyans argues that Government must do more to protect Green Belt and that “Protecting the Green Belt is part of, not a barrier to, solving the housing crisis.” In his view the focus should be on building over 1 million homes on brownfield sites, while avoiding urban sprawl. “The Green Belt makes our towns and cities better places to live. It provides quick access to the countryside”, he claims
5 year Review + More Development Land Proposed
Despite a manifesto pledge to ‘maintain the existing strong protections on designated land like the Green Belt’, the Government’s recent Housing White Paper could prompt further Green Belt loss, with local authorities required to review Green Belt boundaries every five years, and allocate more land for development if developers fail to build at the required speed.‘Exceptional Circumstances’In calculating housing targets, Councils should consider environmental and planning designations, like Green Belt. However, many ignore this, justifying release of Green Belt due to ‘exceptional circumstances’.
In calculating housing targets, Councils should consider environmental and planning designations, like Green Belt. However, many ignore this, justifying release of Green Belt due to ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Debating ‘Affordable Housing’
CPRE’s wish to engage in the ‘Affordable Housing’ debate should not overlook the question of who pays for the land for such housing. Since the cost of building a new home is broadly the same, whether it is for ‘open market’ sale or ‘affordability’, it is the removal of the cost of the land that creates the ‘affordability’. In essence, most homes classed as ‘affordable’ are built on land that has cost little or nothing.What happens is that, when planning permissions require House Builders to make provision for Affordable Homes, the cost of the ‘nil value’ land for these is borne by the open market homes that can be built and sold on the remaining land.Transferring such land cost thus becomes a ‘cross subsidy’ enabling the ‘Affordable’ house plots to be valued at little or nothing. In consequence it puts up the cost of the land for open market housing. Such cost is subsequently borne by the buyers of these open market homes.In reality, it is the buyers of new private homes who are subsidising ‘affordable homes’, whether for rent or any other tenure. They are being directly ‘taxed’ to pay for other people to occupy ‘Affordable Homes’.
Fairness, Equity and Responsibility
This brings into the debate questions of whether this situation is fair and equitable. It also begs the question of who should actually bear the responsibility for funding Affordable Homes. Should it be a burden on private house buyers, who, though their mortgage repayments, will in all probability be subsidising the occupiers of ‘Affordable’ homes for 20 or 30 years into the future? Or should it be the community at large, via revenues raised by the local or national government? In turn this also raises issues of who bears the cost of any potential fall in house prices, social mobility, social economy, and so on. If Government requires private house buyers to bear the cost of providing Affordable Homes, would it not be reasonable for them, i.e. the wider community, to provide relief to them in adverse circumstances?
Part of this debate must address the question of why houses prices have risen to the point where, for many people, they have become unaffordable. Economics 101 would suggest that restricting the availability of development land via the planning system may be behind the increased cost of building land. It might also suggest that past measures which freed financiers to make ever more money available for would be house buyers, funded such increased costs. The debate should also be informed by whether any change in the behaviour of house builders and developers has occurred – are they seeking greater profits now than in the past, have their building practices become less efficient, and so on.Are any of these ‘fit for purpose’, or is a wholesale restructuring required – for example by abolishing the current planning system, freeing all land for development but making developers responsible for all costs, including community impacts (a la parts of the USA), and changing the role of planning officers to facilitate as well as monitor this. This is certainly something that should confront CPRE et al in considering the Green Belt.
Long Term ‘Affordability’
Although seldom considered by planning authorities when imposing ‘affordable home’ quotas, slowly, but surely, it is being recognised that homes need to be built for long term affordability. Not just initial build costs, but on-going running and maintenance costs. Our collective understanding of a buildings energy efficiency, waste mitigation, recycling, whole life cycle considerations and the costs of delivering these. Having been at the forefront of such thinking and delivery since the mid 1970’s, we are delighted that householders – past, present and future – now appear to be enthusiastically embracing this.
However, this will create many further challenges for planners, architects, technical designers, engineers and their builder clients, e.g. aesthetics, structural strengths, mechanical, electrical, heating and acoustic engineering. We are fortunate in being able to address these, since our long heritage as designers and (house) builders, especially of timber structures, has prepared us better than most to be able to provide practical as well as theoretical assistance for clients and their professional advisors.
Consultancy ‘On Tap’
As long standing Chartered Building Consultants (CIOBC) and Chartered Surveyors (RICS), our approach to sustainable building is to use pre-fabrication to deliver the high quality buildings that architects and their clients want at prices they can afford using timber, as a renewable and recyclable material wherever it can practically deliver these benefits to our clients. Call us to arrange a visit to our factory and discussion with our in-house team of professionals for your next project. You’ll be glad you did!