Would a review of the Green Belt help the Gatwick Diamond?

Housing should be strategically built on London’s Metropolitan Green Belt to halt its piecemeal development and alleviate development pressure on the Wider South East, while protecting environmentally important areas, says a new report from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This could open up open land in the Wandle Valley for planned development, including housing and employment. The report’s authors argue that the Green Belt protects land that does not merit protection, while allowing development on land that does.

According to the report, “A 21st Century Metropolitan Green Belt”, current planning regulations allow for parts of the green belt to be chipped away while preventing the building of settlements which make more sense strategically and environmentally.

Dr Alan Mace, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Studies at LSE and one of the authors of the report, said: “We have reached a point where we cannot keep on disregarding the Green Belt as an option for well thought out development. Brownfield sites simply cannot supply enough land to meet projected housing needs in London and the Wider South East.

“People often look at the Green Belt and say, ‘who would want to lose this?’ but often they’re looking at land that is protected in other ways, such as Metropolitan Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and this would not change. Some parts of the Green Belt are neither aesthetically pleasing nor environmentally valuable and these are the areas that should be looked at for potential development.”

The report identifies that one of the most promising ways to achieve strategic development would be along a limited number of corridors. These would be made up of a chain of centres along public transport links. As well as additional housing, these corridors would provide commercial and industrial space that is increasingly being squeezed out of London itself.

LSE corridorsThe corridors would be bounded by ‘green wedges’ with green spaces which would be improved environmentally, aesthetically and for recreational purposes. Currently Green Belt land does not do enough to deliver these benefits.

The corridors match the Greater London Auhorities already identified “co-ordination corridors”, to the North, North West, West, East, and South

The report authors propose a ‘pioneer corridor’ which runs out to Cambridge to test the feasibility of this approach. This would help build collaboration and consensus and establish which strategies and kinds of regulatory change are needed.

One of the other corridors is the one running south to Gatwick  identifed as the Wandle Valley.

Dr Alan Mace said: “By locking up potentially developable land, the Green Belt forces development further from London leading to longer commutes and –importantly – adds to housing pressures across the whole of the Wider South East.  Because of his central role, London’s Mayor needs to embrace a coordinating role in any review of the Green Belt and develop a framework for more active collaboration across the whole of the region.”

It’s true that building homes and employment space along these corridors would allow London and the South East to grow, but maintain the presence of green open space close to where people live. This would reduce pressure on existing housing stock, leading to more affordable homes both for sale and rent, and make travelling from home to work easier.

It could bring linear urban development out from Croydon to Gatwick, and while the land that would be used is not in the main idyllic rolling countryside, but more unfarmable land close to road, rail, and land currently in use, it is something that would need to be planned and programmed carefully and in the interests of existing and future inhabitants.

We need to find a co-ordinated response to proposals such as these. Even if this one is not heard and acted upon, it can only be a matter of time before there is a review of the Green Belt, and at that moment we will wish we had prepared if we find that we have not.

Strategic development could bring more jobs, and more homes, to the Gatwick Diamond, let’s try to plan it properly.

Watch the LSE video of the report.