The new green belt atlas shows quite how much space England has left for housing

This is, for some reason, the most recent photo that comes up when you search Getty for “green belt”, and we're bored with pictures of fields, so. Image: Getty.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to solve the housing crisis is that Britain is, literally, full. Honestly: completely, utterly jam-packed. There just isn’t anywhere left here to put a single extra house.

After all, as anyone who has ever looked out of the window of a plane will know, there is literally not a single square inch of land left in the south of England that hasn’t been concreted over, given its own branch of Tesco Metro, and probably then handed to some immigrants  on the orders of Brussels. Did you know that European legislation means it is now – and I am not making this up – literally illegal to keep a tree? True story. I blame the developers. Them and the council bureaucrats. And the expenses cheats. And Tony Blair. And Jeremy Corbyn, and lazy millennials, and Syrian refugees, and ASLEF, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Muslim Council of Great Britain, and Caitlin Moran, and-

Anyway, back in reality, this is bollocks, obviously. While there are many things that make it difficult for our dear leaders to solve the housing crisis – politics, economics, social factors – physics isn’t one of them. There is loads of spare land where we could put more homes, it’s simply that we’ve chosen not to.

And the reason why I know this is that our old mate from the University of Sheffield, Alasdair Rae, has updated his green belt atlas.

The new version maps the green belt across the 186 English local authorities which contain any. (There are only 326 of them, so that’s more than half the total.) It shows, for example, that there are three local authorities in which more than 90 per cent of land is green belt: 

Those three all have something in common: the M25. To be more specific, all three are large blocks of land bordering Greater London, which contain a couple of commuter towns and a whole lot of nothing.

A map of local authorities around London, with the three offenders marked in green. Image: ONS; vandalism: CityMetric’s own.

A lot of that nothing is quite pretty – the ancient woodland, the North Downs and so forth. Nobody in their right mind would shrug their shoulders and say “concrete the lot”.

But I don’t believe for a moment that there is not a patch of land in any of them that wouldn’t be better employed as housing. Not least since Epping Forest contains seven tube stations. And do the residents of Sevenoaks and neighbouring Tonbridge & Malling (71 per cent green belt) really need all five of these golf courses within a few minutes drive of each other?

Click to expand, and find all five golf courses! Image: Google.

Neighbouring Brentwood meanwhile is getting two stops on Crossrail. In exchange, one might imagine, the local council would have been asked to contribute to solving London’s housing crisis. One would be wrong: its MP Erick Pickles was, when communities secretary, very concerned about the way development would encroach on precious chemically-coated fields.

Others of Rae’s maps show that two London boroughs are more than 50 per cent green belt:

 

That Cambridge is pretty tightly bounded by its existing green belt, si will struggle to grow without cooperating with its neighbour:

And that York has a lot of room to grow, if only anybody would let it:

There are a lot more maps – 17 more, if you want to be specific – on Alasdair’s website here. He’s also published a spreadsheet, showing his workings.

Anyway, long story short: England is not full. Lots of this green and pleasant land remains both green and pleasant. That’s worth defending. But surely we could have an honest conversation about how we do that without dooming an entire generation to over-priced and insecure housing forevermore.

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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All green belt maps courtesy of Alsadair Rae.

 
 
 
 

UK moves to ease lockdown, London mayor moves to investigate Covid-19 inequalities

Schools and shops are beginning to open their doors here in the UK, amidst concerns that the government is easing lockdown too early. Outdoor markets and car showrooms are allowed to re-open from today, while classrooms are reopening for children in reception, year 1 and year 6.

However, as many as a million children – half of those due to return – are expected to stay home due to safety concerns from both parents and schools. And overnight, the Association of Directors of Public Heath cast doubt on the government’s claims that the UK was meeting the five tests for easing lockdown. “Over the weekend we have seen signs that the public is no longer keeping as strictly to social distancing as it was,” it said in a statement. “A relentless effort to regain and rebuild public confidence and trust following recent events is essential.”

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people who work for the city’s government will be offered risk assessments in an effort to tackle the health inequalities thrown up by the Covid-19 crisis.

The service – which will be open to staff of the Greater London Authority, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade, among others – will consider the physical and mental health needs of all vulnerable staff workers.

The disproportionate impact the panedemic has had on ethnic minority communities has been a topic of concern to the mayor for some time. In a column for the Guardian in April, he noted that, despite making up just 14% of the UK population, BAME patients made up a third of critical covid cases. He called on the government to investigate, and asked the  Equality and Human Rights Commission to do the same the following month.

Today’s statement from City Hall notes that, according to the Office for National Statistics figures, black men and women are nearly twice as likely to die from coronavirus than white men and women, after taking into account age and socio-demographic factors. And a study by City Hall’s Intelligence Unit shows that London’s highest covd-19 death rate is in the east London borough of Newham, “where 82 per cent of the population are BAME, one in three is in insecure employment and there are high levels of deprivation, obesity and diabetes”.

More from City Hall here.