Opinion: New homes should only be built in towns with train stations
Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post Newspaper on 2nd October 2019 (also featured on Business-Live.co.uk on 4th October 2019).
Many people will not realise that only a small percentage of the UK has anything built on it at all. There is land with no homes, no railways, no roads, no factories. Nothing whatsoever.
It’s not that we don’t have enough land on which to build homes, it is the planning system which prevents the country building enough dwellings.
The metropolitan greenbelt was created in 1935. This restricted agricultural land surrounding London from suffering urban sprawl.
In 1947, the town and country planning act came into force when the then Labour government, led by Clement Attlee, brought in a system of planning controls across the England and Wales.
After 1947 ownership of land no longer meant that development rights rested with the landowner.
Planning permission was decided by a planning committee of elected local councillors.
There is no doubt that protecting our greenbelt is important, but with a growing population it is vital that home-building is not artificially restricted because it often produces price inflation and reduces the number of homes available across all sectors.
Many years ago I wrote to Tony Blair’s government suggesting that major planning approvals should be restricted to towns with an existing railway station.
My view was that commuters who worked in one place all day would use trains if they were quick, convenient and reliable.
Weston-super-Mare, for example, was a good town to enlarge because it had a mainline railway station, whereas Portishead wasn’t because it didn’t have a station at all.
Granting major planning approvals for extensive homebuilding should firstly focus on villages and towns with an existing railway station.
The only deviation from this policy should be when developments are large enough to enable a new line, tram or train, to be constructed.
Portishead was allowed to expand without planners insisting on the developers contributing towards railway infrastructure being reinstated. The result can be seen on the Long Ashton bypass at 8am every morning.
Park and ride is a great help but the creation of railway stations in Portishead and Clevedon would have meant many commuters didn’t need to drive at all. Surely that would have been better?
It is exactly this short-sighted approach by successive governments over the past 50 years which has created the traffic jams and air-quality issues on major commuter routes all over the country we see today.
Using a car to drive from home, just to park it in an overcrowded town or city all day, and then drive it home again after work is a complete waste of time and resources.
Queuing for an hour or more every day creates stress and costs which can be avoided.
Electric cars will help with air quality but will not necessarily reduce congestion. Only better transport planning policy and an expansion of our rail network will do that.