August 6, 2018 / 5:36 PM / 4 months ago

'Gobbling up' England's Green Belt won't solve housing crisis, campaigners say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of thousands of new homes due to be built in England’s “Green Belt” areas will be out of reach for those struggling to get on the property ladder, a report said on Monday, as housing shortages grip the country.

Despite plans to release Green Belt land - areas in the English countryside that are protected to prevent urban sprawl - to build 460,000 homes, only 22 percent of those will be affordable, according to estimates by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

“We are being sold a lie by many developers,” said Tom Fyans, head of policy at the CPRE, which published the report based on a sample of available planning permissions.

“As they sell off and gobble up the Green Belt to build low-density, unaffordable housing, young families go on struggling to afford a place to live,” Fyans said in a statement.

Britain is experiencing a housing crisis as homebuilding has declined since the 1970s, driving up property prices faster than wages. The government has set an ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

Homelessness has risen in England for more than six years, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation including more than 120,000 children, government data shows.

The CPRE said it was concerned the Green Belt - which makes up about 13 percent of land in England - was “being eroded at an alarming rate” and must be protected.

“The affordable housing crisis must be addressed with increasing urgency, while acknowledging that far from providing the solution, building on the Green Belt only serves to entrench the issue,” said the CPRE’s Fyans.

But Tom Murtha, co-founder of social housing campaign group SHOUT, said developing these areas was acceptable provided the majority of properties are low-cost homes.

“I’m in favor of building on the Green Belt especially that which is marginal land and could be redesignated,” Murtha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Local planners should enforce the development of low-cost homes for local people who are being forced out of rural areas,” he said.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that while the number of new homes built last year was the highest in a decade, only 0.02 per cent of the Green Belt was developed for residential use.

“We are clear that building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up our countryside,” the ministry said in a statement.

It said it will spend an additional 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) to boost affordable housing by March 2021.

($1 = 0.7731 pounds)

Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Zoe Tabary; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories

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