Only future historians will know the Cabinet debates which spawned today’s Housing White Paper, but from the outside, it seems that realpolitik has triumphed over commonsense and logic.
From a developer’s perspective, for the government to achieve clear its ambitious one million new homes by 2020, it had to sharply revise its thinking on the Green Belt.
A concept developed in the1950’s as a planning tool has accidentally become a huge barrier, to delivering housing growth in a sustainable way.
Last month, carefully-leaked comments attributed to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid suggested he’d recognised the dilemma, and was prepared to stand his ground against criticism from Conservative MPs from the Home Counties and other affluent rural constituencies.
He’d already sanctioned the release of Green Belt land for thousands of homes in his own constituency, so the omens looked positive.
Today though, it appears Javid has been defeated by Cabinet colleagues, unwilling to engage in a high-profile anti-manifesto tussle with backbench MPs who see such land as untouchable.
The inevitable outcome, unless this decision is reversed before the White Paper becomes legislation, is that we will suffer a full-blown housing crisis.
As a major developer and land-owner, with some 4,000 plots currently under our control, IM Land is always acutely aware of the need to put forward new-build proposals which are considered, sustainable and in tune with the wishes of local residents.
However, when inexorable demographic pressures are present in the market, everyone needs to be innovative and flexible about devising potential solutions.
As debate on the White Paper proceeds, I think everyone needs to understand that what we call the Green Belt is often land of low environmental value.
Sometimes, this land is used for intensive agriculture, which provides no public access to open space.
It’s a long-enduring myth that anything with a Green Belt designation is classic English countryside; a rolling landscape dotted with small villages and not a swathe of tarmac in sight.
I’d like to see areas of landscape with real amenity value given more protection, whilst land near expanding urban settlements is released to meet the constantly-growing need for more homes.
Penalising housebuilders – who afterall are our only hope of delivering housing targets – with policies that the government believe will force though more homes, will in actual fact increase their risk and make them less likely to deliver new schemes.
At the time of great economic uncertainty about the impact of EU, we can’t afford for the housebuilding industry to put the brakes on and stifle economic growth – let alone creating much needed homes.