The major reshuffle within the Cabinet this week saw Theresa May pave the way for a renewed focus on housing, with Sajid Javid at the helm as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Dominic Raab by his side as housing minister.
These new appointments echo Hammond’s 2017 Autumn Budget statement and last year’s Housing White Paper, which made available over £15 billion of new financial support for housing over the next five years.
The UK requires 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s to meet demand and it’s clear that increasing the supply of homes relies on addressing key issues of skills and planning.
Hammond’s Budget proposed further planning reforms, in order to release more land. It’s a welcome step forward, but the elephant in the room remains and begs the question – should those planning reforms go as far as to release some of the UK’s protected green belt land to help ease the housing pressure?
The green belt policy preserves our countryside and local landscapes to help prevent urban sprawl between neighbouring towns. An estimated 13% of land in England is protected, but it is thought by some that unlocking this land could help to alleviate the housing shortage.
National, and perhaps more importantly, regional economic growth emphasises the importance of maximising the potential of the UK’s towns and cities. As people move to new areas for improved employment opportunities, such as those cities within the Northern Powerhouse, you have to wonder where new homes will be built.
With local authorities sitting on land and dragging their heels on decisions, large areas of city brownfield stay landlocked. While the government’s intention to speed up this process of releasing land is promising, it is not surprising that the green belt is increasingly under the spotlight.
For many, our green spaces outside of towns and cities could be ripe for developments that cater to the commuter generation – new-build housing on our primary motorway and rail links.
The Land Assembly Fund, totalling up to £1.1 billion of investment, is retained for turning fragmented pieces of land, often brownfield, into ready-to-go sites. Is it time for the government to loosen its green belt and take a similar approach?
Yet, with the appointment of Dominic Raab, a vocal protector of green belt land now in charge of meeting the housing shortage head on, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lauren Venables – PR and social media executive