This map shows quite how much of London’s green belt is off limits to Londoners

The green belt in Greater London. Image: Barney Stringer/Quod.

One of the reasons, I think, that people feel so strongly about the need to protect London’s green belt is because they like the sense they have access to open space. Building homes on the green belt, it is assumed, will reduce the area of green fields and parkland available for the average Londoner to visit.

This is largely – and sadly – nonsense, as the map above shows. The work of long-time friend of CityMetric, Quod’s Barney Stringer, it shows exactly how little of London’s green belt is actually open to Londoners.

In all, the green belt covers 22 per cent of land within Greater London. (That’s just a fraction of it, of course: it stretches deep into the neighbouring counties, and just 7 per cent of it is in London itself.)

Click for a bigger version. Or click here for a really big version, off-site.

Yet only the areas in dark green are actually accessible, in the sense you can actually visit it rather than just looking at it from a car window: a few chunks on the north east edge of the capital and down south near to Croydon, some smaller patches around Enfield or Barnet, but remarkably little out west in Hillingdon. Most of the rest is private land: golf courses, farmland, and so on.

Ironically, the green belt might actually be reducing the area of green space available to Londoners. The last couple of decades have seen a fair number of school playing fields succumb to the concrete, and as the Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy is fond of saying, the current rules protect “wasteland and car parks” in outer London, but not parks and playing fields in the inner city.

Incidentally, the blue dots on Barney’s map are stations and the red ones bus stops. In a few places, you can see quite how close to transport links undeveloped land lies.

I’ve vandalised the north eastern corner of Barney’s lovely map to show the Central and District lines, as well as TfL Rail (in violet; soon to become Crossrail) and an outer branch of the Overground, to show how close to open space they actually get.

Many of these sites will be pretty, or flood-prone, or otherwise inappropriate for houses, of course: I’m not saying we should build on all them. I’m just saying, it may be worth taking the time to check.

And as for the rest, well, maybe we can turn it into parks. Or at least replace some of those playing fields, eh?

UPDATE, 1330hrs: Okay, I'm getting an unusual amount of push back on this one. Some of its silly, or just plain wrong. Some of it is things I disagree with for reasons I’ve articulated before, but perhaps didn't communicate very well in the article above, so may well come back to at some point soon. (You lucky people.)

But there's one point I've seen a few people make where, annoyingly, they’re kind of right. It's this:

This is a fair point, and means I've over-stated my case above. Much of the land coloured light green on the map above will be farms and golf courses and pony clubs and other private land – but there will be routes you can walk through, within certain strictly defined limits. That clearly does have a utility for many people: having walked the London LOOP, I’ve used many of those paths myself.

Personally, I don't think that's enough. The fact 22 per cent of London is green belt is a significant factor in the city's housing shortage, a problem which is making life incredibly difficult for a significant proportion of people who live in this city. "Well you can enjoy the view of my golf course, so long as you stick to these strictly defined paths," doesn't seem to be enough to make up for that.

All the same, though, my implication that the light green bits were entirely off limits was a bit much.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.