Labour Party unveils green belt building plans

Labour has launched a plan to reclassify and build on poor quality areas of the green belt, dubbed the ‘grey belt’.

Land targeted for development will include “poor-quality scrubland, mothballed on the outskirts of town”, according to a Labour spokesperson, including a disused petrol station in Tottenham currently designated as green belt.

Despite this shifting focus, Labour leader Keir Starmer pledged to retain a “brownfield-first” approach to development, while Labour ruled out building on “genuine nature spots”.

Half of the homes built on the “grey belt” will be designated as ‘affordable’.

Anna Clarke, director of policy and public affairs at membership group The Housing Forum, said: “It’s good to build on brownfield sites where practical, but we know these are not sufficient to meet needs. Many cities, such as London have a growing population and huge levels of housing need.

“But they are unable to grow outwards because of greenbelts which were drawn up over 70 years ago. We would like to see a more strategic approach to the greenbelt, with local authorities and city regions encouraged to work together. Central government should support these ambitions and not try to lock down the boundaries of greenbelts in perpetuity.”

Indeed, many from within the property industry appear to support the plans.

Lawrence Turner, director of planning consultancy, Boyer, said: “It is important to recognise that Green Belt land does not solely comprise areas of pristine countryside. In fact, many Green Belt areas are used for industrial purposes, golf courses, or intense agricultural activities – which Keir Starmer refers to as “grey belt.” This distinction is crucial, as it dispels the misconception that all Green Belt land is environmentally valuable and must be preserved at all costs.

“Releasing Green Belt land for housing development could potentially unlock new opportunities for sustainable, well-planned communities. By focusing on infilling within existing urban areas and utilising brownfield sites within the Grey Belt, we can minimise the impact while still meeting the demand for new homes.”

Tim Foreman, managing director of Land and New Homes, Leaders Romans Group, speculated on whether Starmer’s comments will lead to much change in practice.

He said: “While I agree with much of what Keir Starmer is saying, I’m not sure if there is anything terribly revolutionary in it.

“We have heard talk like this before from governments but the problem is that when planning applications go in on this type of land, they are held up for years or refused at a local level.

“The ideas are good but the policy must have some teeth to make sure that the land is released in a timely manner to help with the chronic shortage of homes.

He added: “I also am slightly worried about the proposal that 50% of the homes built on this land are designated Affordable Homes.

“This percentage seems to keep creeping up and with the current high cost of materials and labour already affecting our sector I am worried that development sites will be financially unviable if they have to provide this percentage of affordable homes.

“I think our problem is serious enough that a housing task force needs to be set up with a clearer plan on what the mission is and more authority to step in if things are held up.”

The Conservatives responded to the news by branding themselves as the only party willing to protect the countryside.

Richard Holden, chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “Only Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives will respect local communities building the right homes in the right places.”

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