Build homes on ‘low quality’ areas of London green belt, think tank urges

The Centre for London argues that home-building should be enabled on "low quality" areas of the green belt (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
The Centre for London argues that home-building should be enabled on "low quality" areas of the green belt (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Sadiq Khan and the Government should allow homes to be built on “low quality” areas of London’s green belt to boost the capital’s housing supply, a think tank has said.

In a new report, the Centre for London recommends that the mayor and Ministers create development corporations at ten key sites within the green belt, close to railway stations.

It argues that despite the green belt's name, the land surrounding the city "contains many areas of low ecological quality, the loss of which would not necessarily harm our climate goals or people’s access to high quality natural spaces".

The idea of building homes on parts of the green belt was raised earlier this year when Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pledged that his party will build the "next generation of new towns" and would utilise “grey belt” sites - a term he used to describe locations like “disused car parks” and “dreary wasteland[s]” which currently exist within the green belt.

The Centre for London’s report suggests that the Treasury should provide long-term funding settlements of ten years for each of the new development corporations.

As a condition of receiving the funding, the corporations “would have to show that they have remediated and invested into an equal area of green belt land to create high quality, accessible green space in walking distance” of the new developments.

There are currently two development corporations in London - one covering the area around the Olympic Park in Stratford and one at the Old Oak and Park Royal site near Acton, where a vast HS2 station is being built.

The most famous development corporation was created by environment secretary Michael Heseltine in London’s docklands in 1980, resulting in the creation of the financial district at Canary Wharf and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).

A spokeswoman for Mr Khan said: “The Mayor is proud to have overseen higher housing completions in London in recent years than any time since the 1930s, alongside record-breaking, genuinely affordable homebuilding and higher council homebuilding than any time since the 1970s.

“The Mayor’s London Plan enables housebuilding while also protecting London’s green belt, ensuring that any building on the green belt is very limited, with green belt boundaries only changed in exceptional circumstances.

“Sadiq is continuing to call on Ministers to back London to build genuinely affordable homes at the scale required, by investing the £4.9bn a year that independent experts say the capital needs.”

A spokeswoman at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are determined to build the homes that people in London and across the country need, without concreting over the countryside.

“Our ambitious long term plan for housing includes specific measures for London, from providing up to £1 billion from our Affordable Homes Programme for regeneration, to building 65,000 homes through Docklands 2.0.”

The 65,000 homes referred to are set to be built at Beckton, Silvertown and Thamesmead, with an extended, cross-river DLR service proposed to connect them. The scheme has been described by housing secretary Michael Gove as "an eastward extension along the Thames of the original Heseltine vision".

The Centre for London’s report also says that the Government should end the Right to Buy scheme for council tenants, to keep homes in the social sector and allow the stock to grow, and that Ministers should create an Affordable Housing Commission to set Government funding for affordable housing based on expert projections.

The report argues: “To build enough homes in London, we need to double annual housebuilding from the 37,000 homes built in 2021/22 to approximately 74,000 a year for 15 years.”

In 2021, the latest edition of the London Plan - the Mayor’s official development strategy for the city - suggested that a lower figure of 66,000 new homes was needed in the capital each year.

If London’s housing crisis is not improved, the report says that people on lower incomes will be pushed out of the city, and councils will go bankrupt because of the strain of providing temporary accommodation for a rising number of homeless families.