Arguing the toss, spiked style

This week: should we continue to prevent housebuilding on green-belt land?

It says here that there are plans to build 200,000 homes in the green belt.

Really? Brilliant! Well, it’s a start anyway.

Are you mad?

What’s wrong with celebrating new housing?

I think building more homes is a good idea. But seriously, we have little enough countryside as it is without building even more stuff on it.

The price of housing in the UK is astronomical because demand outstrips supply. We need to build lots of homes as soon as possible.

Not on the countryside. That’s ridiculous. We need to preserve our green spaces, too. We should build in towns on brownfield sites.

When you say ‘our green spaces’, you mean green spaces miles out of town that many people have little opportunity to enjoy. And when you say ‘brownfield sites’, you mean cramming even more housing into urban areas, reducing the green spaces where millions of people actually live.

If we allow building in the green belt, there will be nowhere for cities to ‘breathe’. We’ll just end up with one huge urban sprawl like they have in America, with its endless, soulless suburbs.

You mean ‘its endless supply of reasonably sized housing at relatively affordable prices’? I think you need to think again. First, only a tiny fraction of the UK is actually developed - about seven per cent has buildings or roads on it. Even if you ignore Scotland and Wales, with all their mountains, and just look at England, only 10 per cent is built on. The rest is farmland, forest, hills, and so on. We’re hardly concreting over the country. Green belts actually cover more land - 13 per cent - than is built on. A whopping 88 per cent of people live within green belts - or rather, are hemmed in by them.

But we will concrete over too much land if we just let developers have a free-for-all.

The green belts came in after the Second World War, which is very apt because what they actual amount to is rationing. People will be forced to live in smaller and smaller homes. Old houses will increasingly be split up into multiple flats. Everyone will pay through the nose for less and less space. And it’s only going to get worse as the UK population rises in the next few decades. All this just so that those lucky enough to live in the countryside can keep their nice views?

Sorry, but this is all a bit brutal. What we’re talking about here is our heritage. I don’t want to see the land that tells the story of our country ploughed up and covered in identikit homes.

I think people would rather be able to afford a home with a ‘green space’ - you know, a garden - than live in a space too small to swing a cat but sleep happily knowing there is some other place elsewhere, that they don’t live in, which remains fields and footpaths.

You’re suggesting that green-belt land is useless, just pretty views. But it should be used more effectively. I read somewhere that three-quarters of people want more locally produced food. So let’s stop buying food from huge farms hundreds or thousands of miles away and produce it closer to cities.

Dubious opinion poll alert! I’ll bet if you asked people properly, they would say their first priorities are affordable food and affordable housing. And to achieve that, we need those fields outside towns to become housing estates and we should grow food efficiently in large farms with greater economies of scale. Oh, and as for this rubbish about allowing cities to ‘breathe’ - that might have made a modicum of sense when the air was full of smoke from coal fires and factories. But the air in our big cities is cleaner now than it has been for centuries.

What all of this shows is that the housing crisis is just assumed to be inevitable, while a coalition of eco-warriors and welly-wearing walkers demands the right to wander lonely as clouds then hop into their Range Rovers and tootle into town where the oiks live. How nice! I would rather have a bit of urban sprawl and a decent place to live, thanks all the same. It’s definitely time to loosen the green belt.

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

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