One of the key questions awaiting Greater Bristol’s new Metro Mayor will be how much Green Belt land will need to be released to satisfy demand for new housing.
The Centre of Cities Think Tank has spelt out the problem – and acknowledged more homes would be needed in the buffer zone between Bristol and Bath. Present estimates put the number of new homes required at 85,000.
The Think Tank suggests around 4,300 of these could be built on Brownfield land – and if anything that estimate is on the generous side.
We have called for every Brownfield site to be developed before developers are permitted to make significant inroads into our Green Belt, but we have also recognised the limitations on Brownfield development due to the high cost of contamination and clearing land.
Brownfield sites must be economically viable for the developer to move on to a site and deliver the homes we need.
Housing quotas and where we build will surely be one of the most divisive issues awaiting the new Metro Mayor when he or she is elected in May.
The countryside lobby is likely to be cautious about the prospect of building within the Green Belt – and we can expect headlines about concreting over our green fields.
In reality of course, only a small fraction of our open land is built up. And up to half the land in South Gloucestershire and two thirds of land in the Bath and North East Somerset Council area falls within the Green Belt.
For one thing this puts increased pressure on land outside the Green Belt.
For another, it will be next to impossible to build the 85,000 homes required in the next 20 years - the equivalent of building two more cities the size of Bath – without straying into the Green Belt in its present form.
In October, the government backed a £1bn devolution agreement to Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council.
The agreement involves creating a Metro Mayor who would make key decisions on major areas such as housing, jobs and roads. Last month’s Government White Paper on Housing will increase pressure on councils who have failed to identify sufficient housing land within their local plan.
From November this year, if new home delivery falls below 85 per cent of the council’s housing requirement, authorities will be expected to plan for a 20 per cent buffer on their five-year land supply, if they have not already done so.
If delivery falls below 95 per cent the Local Planning Authority will be will be instructed to produce an action plan setting out the reasons for failing to meet housing need and what action will be taken to address the shortfall, and various other thresholds for 2018, 2019 and 2020.
In the meantime though, further reforms of the Green Belt may be necessary if there is to be any significant progress on delivering new homes.
The Green Belt was introduced as a countryside protection policy back in the 1930s, and it is important we recognize how successful it has been in restricting urban sprawl.
But it has created unsustainable transport patterns as people commute from beyond the Green Belt. Some level of reorganisation is required, whether that includes land swaps, new development on land adjoining existing settlements, or the construction of new ‘garden’ towns.