Guest article by Benjamin Sanders
You would have thought that a ‘Conservative’ government would have been completely against building on green belt land. There are many reasons for this; firstly, because the Tories usually lived in the countryside and appreciated it, and secondly because the majority of their voting base lived in rural areas. This connection between the Conservative party and rural life was strong and stable for centuries, though now this seems to have come to an end.
In the last few weeks, a growing number of Theresa May’s MPs, including some Brexiteers, have called for green belt land to be stripped of its protected status. This narrative began on the 8th August, when Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, called for major development on green belt land, describing those who opposed such plans as being ‘nimbys’. She was branded ‘out of touch’ by her own constituents, but this did little to affect her opinion.
Then on the 12th August, leading Brexiteer Daniel Hannan wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph, where he echoed Truss’s views. He suggested that some farmland was ugly and should be built on, and at the same time argued for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to be expanded. The most surprising development though came from backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, who on the 13th August called for 50 new houses to be built in every British village. Mogg comes across as probably the most traditional Tory of this century, and so many of his supporters were disappointed by his remarks.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has warned the government that the policy of preferring unaffordable greenbelt homes instead of cheaper, brownfield developments is wrong. They have estimated that up to 1 million new homes could be built on existing brownfield sites.
In England, the green belt areas are as follows: Blackpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol and Bath, Burton upon Trent, Cambridge, Derby and Nottingham, Gloucester, Liverpool-Manchester and West Yorkshire, London Area, Morecambe, North East, Oxford, Stoke-on-Trent and York. In Wales, there is just one area between Cardiff and Newport, whilst in Scotland there are 10 green belt areas. Northern Ireland has 30 green belt areas, which amount to around 16% of its total land mass, or 226,600 hectares.
Their primary reason for existence is to stop two settlements connecting and turning into one large area of urban sprawl. So for example, the green belt between Nottingham and Derby is the only factor stopping them from becoming one large conurbation.
In 2003, there were 1,671, 580 hectares of green belt land in England, yet by 2014 that had fallen to 1,638, 610 hectares. Some of this is no doubt due to National Park designations and boundary changes, yet the amount of land is definitely on a downward trend.
Incredibly, not one politician who is advocating for large scale housing development is mentioning the major reason for it – mass immigration. Net migration is well above 200,000 people per year, and the Government says we need to build 200,000 homes a year, yet nobody is brave enough to put two and two together.
Britain already has a very high population density, and it sadly looks like this is something we will have to live with for a long time to come. Although the pressure on schools, hospitals and the police is often highlighted, the growing pressure on our land mass itself is still largely overlooked