Opinion: Bristol needs to release greenfield and greenbelt land for more houses

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post on 7th February 2018 (also featured on BristolPost.co.uk on 9th February 2018).

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Stephen Fear, founder and chief executive of Bristol-based land and planning company Fear Group, on why Bristol needs to consider building homes on greenfield and greenbelt land.

Housing is such a hot topic that hardly a day goes by when there isn’t some new suggestion on how to increase our rate of new home delivery.

The government is now suggesting ways of forcing major house builders to build on land they own and where planning permission has been granted.

Undoubtedly, there are instances where permission was given, in some cases many years ago, and yet it remains undeveloped.

While it is essential that we increase the number of homes being built, it is equally important to remain level-headed about the cause of delays, which are often many and varied. It isn’t always developers delaying matters. It is sometimes circumstances outside their control.

Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister, once said that “a week is a long time in politics”, and he was certainly right.

At the moment public opinion slews left, right, and centre, with all the parties chipping in with “we know best” comments. Frankly, I doubt very much that any of them know much at all.

In the 2015 general election, Ed Miliband, the then Labour leader, said in The Independent that he wanted Britain to be building 200,000 homes per year by 2020. I commented at the time that this was nowhere near enough and that more than 300,000 were needed to be built every year to bring a better balance to overall housing provision.

It isn’t just the number of homes being built that matters but also varying what’s on offer that’s important.

We need a huge increase in genuinely affordable provision, coupled with many more two, three and four-bedroom houses with gardens, to rent on regulated long-term tenancies and to buy, so that couples can start families and then bring up their children in safe and secure surroundings.

Without a doubt, apartments will remain an important part of any future housing provision but in themselves will not cure the crisis. Families are best-suited to houses where children can experience having dogs, cats and other pets. Gardens are vital in this regard.

It’s all well and good talking about building on brownfield or previously developed land but this will not be enough. We will need to look closely at releasing both greenfield and greenbelt land if we have any hope of increasing provision of homes to sensible levels.

Another issue that needs attention is land that is currently owned by the public. We must make sure that the focus on developing this land is upon affordable provision first, not last.

One Comment

  • barry charman

    15th February 2018 at 5:38 pm

    Quite right but think of the prefabs that were “thrown up” as temporary housing – many of which are still in use 60 years later.
    The big problem in UK is that the economy is all geared to house prices – unlike say Germany or USA.
    If there was an affordable type of house -ideally a “lego” type that was cheap to erect, fully insulated so inexpensive to heat and NOT used as a way of obtaining a tax free gain in the long term – as most house owners expect -then the economy would benefit by increased investment in savings, shares,pensions etc. Most people regard a home purchase as the best return they can get -and they have to live somewhere -and rent is “wasted money”.
    If it cost say half of what the payments would be on a mortgage – without the deposit- then a lot of people would find renting attractive -but the vested interests from builders ,building societies, brick makers and property developers wouldn’t like it!
    With our society looking down on caravans dwellers , park homes,and so on it would take a seismic shift to achieve!

    Reply

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