Picture of the English countryside. Behind the hill is a title saying "can we build on it?". To support the title of the article, "Can you build on green belt land?"

Can you build on green belt land…? Maybe.

22 May 2023

The British countryside is one of the most stunning sites the world has to offer, with many of us taking it for granted, we often forget just how beautiful it really is. However, recent comments, ideas, and plans from the government could make some huge changes to our greenery as many now discuss the possibility of lifting restrictions so we can build on green belt land.

Sir Kier Starmer calls for building on the Green Belt

Recently, Kier Starmer announced that one of Labours plans to tackle the housing crisis is to allow building on the green belt. An idea that has caused controversy and debate amongst many in our industry as we imagine what the future of our urban spaces might look like.

Rishi Sunak has shown that he disagrees with this idea, and some have questioned if the Labour government as a whole agree with this plan, but both sides offer compelling arguments that deserve examination.

A picture of the British countryside to help illustrate the look of the green belt.

What is green belt land?

Green belt land refers to an area of greenery that surrounds cities. This land is protected and unable to built on, this helps control urban growth from becoming unmanageable.

Where is the green belt UK?

Most major cities have a green belt to help stop unnecessary urban expansion. Blackpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Burton upon Trent, Cambridge, Derby, Gloucester, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Morecambe, North-East, Oxford, Stoke-on-Trent, and York all have a green belt around them.  

a bird eye view of the UK showing the green belt areas of the UK.

Can you build on green belt land?

In most situations someone cannot build on green belt land as it is restricted. However, local authorities may grant permission for exceptional circumstances, but this is rare. As a result, most people will avoid trying to get something built on it.

As a result, we often see debates around the effects of having a green belt. A lot of development companies fight for the right to make use of this land as it is so close to major cities. We can see a lot of pros and cons to allowing construction on the green belt, and recent conversations have brought a lot of these debates to the surface. We need to ask if the benefits outweigh the cons.

Why does labour want to build on the green belt?

In the past few years, the reality of owning a home has become harder. Starmer said in a recent interview, “We’ve got to drive housebuilding at pace. We need to put local areas in charge of that so change the planning rules, have development corporations as vehicles on the ground to drive building, and make sure that the dream, the aspiration of owning your own home is realised for so many people who at the moment have had their dreams shattered.”

Their stance is that recent economical issues and population growth has made the reality of owning a home harder for many young people. The lack of homes means that prices are high, and annual incomes don’t really match the current cost.

In the past few decades house prices have almost increased twice as much as wages. In the last 50 years, house prices have gone up by 58 times their original price and wages have only gone up by 30 times their original average. Hence, young people face a much tougher reality to affording housing in the current climate.

a shot of building being constructed in England.

On top of this, houses are not being made fast enough to help combat this. Labour believes that lowering building restrictions and opening up the green belt for construction projects could help to elevate this current issue.

Starmer has said that the idea is not to remove the green belt, but to reassess areas of it, and to allow local authorities more power over their areas. Allowing more opportunities to build on this unused land. In theory, the idea has both appealing and unappealing qualities. It most definitely makes for an interesting discussion, and it is something that we need to think about as we move into the future.

The issue with building on the green belt

The reality is that the green belt stands to control and monitor urban growth. They are there to make local food growth, outdoor leisure, and natural life flourish as urban landscapes deny this aspect of our natural world.

They keep the area open and free from unchecked urban growth. Maintaining our relationship with the land around us. This is essential, as many development companies are fundamentally driven by profit and could allow this to hinder their perception of what is a good project and what is a bad project for our environment. The green belt helps to combat this and allows cities to remain in a level of harmony with the countryside.

Nottingham,uk.

However, the green belt has also been criticised for contributing to the current housing crisis as it helps keep prices higher. Since we can’t expand as much as we need to, the price of free land becomes very high as it’s a very valuable asset. Classic supply and demand principles in play. This means that the price of housing increases because the initial cost of land is high.  

So, we need to assess if the green belt’s benefits are worth the potential downsides caused by it.

Does it benefit the construction industry to be building on green belt land?

The construction industry can always benefit from more work. More work means more jobs, more opportunities, and generally industry benefits. Allowing construction on the greenbelt would open up a lot of work throughout our sector, but is that a good thing?

Building on the green belt would obviously come with criticisms. A lot of the public would disagree with the choice of building on the land, and it could harm the image of a lot of companies. Furthermore, building on the green belt is not an instant fix and comes with its own set of questions that need to be asked.

Do we have enough workers to accommodate an increase in projects? Would these houses be affordable designs with adequate infrastructure for first time buyers? Would we also get schools, shops, new roads, and other necessary parts of infrastructure to accommodate the newer housing? With the green belt slowing down urban growth, it does help to make sure that things are properly planned and thought out as space can’t afford to be wasted.

Should we be building on the green belt?

That’s the fundamental question! The reality is that the green belt could do with being reassessed, some areas of it demands review and maybe don’t represent what the principal of the concept stands to do. As some have pointed out, some of the land is no longer representative of the green belt. However, once we begin building on it, where do we draw the line?

Ultimately, it comes with pros and cons. The answer is not easy and we have to seriously assess the consequences of both sides.