When the idea of a permanent ring of green space surrounding London was first floated in the years before WW2, the intention was that it would improve the lives of the city's inhabitants.
The Green Belt would be a narrow band, perhaps no more than a mile wide; it wouldn’t necessarily even be continuous. But it'd be publicly owned, and publicly accessible, and would thus provide pleasant and health-giving parkland, conveniently located for every Londoner.
What it wouldn't be was a thick slab of privately owned farmland miles from anywhere, whose main impact on Londoners would be to push up house prices.
That, though, is the green belt we've ended up with. So today the pressure group London First and regeneration consultancy Quod have published a report (yes, another one) calling on the authorities to have a rethink. London's population is growing fast, but its housing stock isn’t, and one big reason is we don't have enough land to build on.
To improve the lot of Londoners today, and to ensure high housing costs don't start having a negative impact on the city's businesses, the report argues, it's time to think again about whether all that land is worth protecting.
The report is full of fascinating maps and stats on what the green belt is really like. Here are our favourites.
1) London is more than two-thirds green
More than a fifth (22 per cent) of land within the Greater London boundary is green belt. That figure is a bit misleading, though, because when you include parks, and gardens, and so forth, actually nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of London is “green”; only 28 per cent of all land is actually built on. The remainder (7.5 per cent) is mysteriously unclassified.
2) Nearly half of London’s boroughs include more green belt than housing
Of the 33 local authorities within London, 14 of them have more land given over to green belt than housing. In fact, just four of London's local authorities are more than half built up:
3) The green belt doesn’t include those parks you actually visit
The green belt swallows large chunks of outer London. Perversely, though, it doesn't include areas of parkland they're most likely to use, such as Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and the Lower Lea Valley (labels ours):
Only 13 per cent of London's green belt is actually accessible to the public:
4) Or those bits that are good for biodiversity:
Another 13 per cent is “environmentally protected”: nature reserves, ancient woodland and so on.
5) The green belt is actually mostly farms
Most than half of the green belt (59 per cent) is actually given over to agriculture.
Do the sums, and you'll find that means that 13 per cent all land in the capital is covered in farms. Which, let's be honest, aren't much use to the average Londoner.
6) Except for the bits which are golf courses
Another 7.1 per cent is golf courses. That’s more than twice the size of the borough of Kensington & Chelsea, which has a similar population to Cambridge (just over 160,000). That's a lot of space given over to golfers in the middle of a housing crisis.
7) Around 2 per cent of the green belt itself is built up
That’s not because of creeping ribbon development, but because when the belt was first created it swallowed pre-existing roads, houses and even whole villages.
8) London is building more houses than it has for a while
London's house building rates have actually picked up in recent years...
9) But nothing like enough
...but it's been missing the targets by more than ever. The Greater London Authority thinks the city needs to build anything between 49,000 and 62.000 new homes a year until 2036. Suffice it to say that it isn't anything close to that.
10) High house prices don't just hurt renters – they hurt the economy
A narrow plurality of Londoners say they would consider leaving the city if housing costs keep rising – and a significant majority of business leaders think it's a risk to the economy.
So, basically, if you're a farmer, a golfer, or someone who owns a house in the green belt, you should fight tooth and claw to protect it.
If you’re not any of those things, though, it might be time to think again.
All images taken from: "The Green Belt: A Place for Londoners?", published today by London First, Quod and the Social Economics Research Centre.