A New Realism on the Green Belt?  Yeah, maybe.

When Jacob Rees Mogg MP attacks the green belt as a ‘corset’ that restricts the housing market, and that by loosening this garment, the market could ‘breathe by at least 25%’, one can either react in fury at the latest Rees-Mogg outburst, or sit up and think:  Oh, that’s not what I expected to hear from a Conservative MP with lots of green belt in his own constituency.

Jacob went on:  ‘I think the biggest challenge facing us at the moment is housing’, which is also rather interesting given his interest in Brexit.

So the big question is why the new stance?  Why has Jacob Rees-Mogg seen the light, and will this rub off on other more nimby-ish Conservative MPs.

A very senior Conservative Minister in the housing department told us earlier this year that the election last year was a turning point:  “Before the election, I was hearing in the Commons tea rooms the need to stop housing to pacify constituents.  After the election, all I was hearing was that electoral success lies in allowing more housing.”

The Government announced plans to build 300,000 new homes a year, never achieved since the 1960s; with the new housing secretary, James Brokenshire, announcing the new garden communities programme in August, with projects ranging in size from 10,000 to 40,000 homes.

Just 2.27% of England is actually built on and a mere 10.6% of England is classified as urban. And that tenth isn’t all concrete: it includes parks, golf courses, gardens, canals, reservoirs and so on.

The LSE claim that if we let London expand by one mile into the scrubby green belt within the M25, we could add a million new homes. That might upset a few people in the Surrey and Sussex commuter-belt.

MPs, in some instances, are becoming more open to the idea of redefining the Green Belt to let themselves meet their targets. A report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England in August showed plans for almost 460,000 homes have been pencilled in for green belt land since 2013.

Does this new realism rub off onto local councillors?  That’s debatable.  Cherwell District Council approved 4,000 green belt homes, earlier this year, despite 1,500 objections. Cllr Colin Clarke, their lead member for planning, said: “I do appreciate the fact that the objectors had some major concerns, but at the end of the day I think the right decision was made and had to be made”. But the majority of councils are far more protective, particularly in their own backyard. Cllr Colin Smith, the leader of Bromley, reiterates that the Green Belt is something his council is “totally committed to defending”.

At Thorncliffe, we’re happy to help identify YIMBYs – the people who say “Yes, In My Back Yard”.  And we’re happy to help you identify those MPs who feel likewise, and perhaps persuade certain councillors that the need for housing trounces the need for green belt protection at all costs.

Get in touch.