Immediate past President, Janet Askew, took part this week in a debate on the green belt, hosted by The Building Centre.
The Building Centre in Store Street has an exhibition about the green belt and to accompany this, they are holding three debates about the green belt. The event at which I spoke at, with an audience of 160, was entitled ‘Is the green belt a luxury we can’t afford?’. The other topics in the series are: What next for the green belt; and How do we build on the green belt? For our event, we had assorted speakers, representing all sides of the argument, and so a very lively evening and searching discussion ensued.
One of my main arguments on the night was that it is not enough to merely build new houses, but they should be in accessible and sustainable places for future generations. Communities need walkable and cyclable neighbourhoods with good access to public transport.
I drew heavily on RTPI-sponsored research into the impact of building on the green belt, including the likely increase in car traffic if there are more houses built on the edge. I spoke of my experience working and lecturing in other countries, where I am asked about our green belt policy in many places, including in China, America, Australia and Canada, as well as in some European countries. I was the only speaker who spoke about the dangers of sprawl, with its adverse social, environmental and economic impacts – all of which will affect future generations. Important recent RTPI research investigated the issue of whether we are building new housing in sustainable locations. One of my main arguments on the night was that it is not enough to merely build new houses, but they should be in accessible and sustainable places for future generations. Communities need walkable and cyclable neighbourhoods with good access to public transport.
Other contributors on the panel, such as Shaun Spiers, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), talked about the necessity of keeping open land around cities and the value generally of the green belt. Barney Stringer (Quod) and Toby Lloyd (Shelter) had co-operated on a detailed mapping analysis of London, looking at all the possible options for building the housing that London needs. Toby talked about a recent report Shelter had produced on tackling the housing crisis in London. Paul Cheshire, from the London School of Economics (LSE) in a wide ranging contribution argued intensive agriculture was an inappropriate use in the green belt, that using the ‘edge sites’ for housing was the only valid use in a less than perfect housing market.
The discussions have opened up the debate on the green belt, everyone learnt something, and perhaps entrenched positions were moved, however slightly.
The Building Centre exhibition on the green belt.
Read the RTPI report: Building in the green belt?
Read the RTPI report: The location of development.