Editor: In PMQs late last month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed that housebuilding had “collapsed” – a sentiment felt by many in our industry. Indeed, the target of 300,000 new homes a year has not come close to being reached over the last decade.
The housing secretary, meanwhile, continues his barrage on housebuilders and is actively responding to backbenchers’ demands for greater green-belt protections. Last month, the Home Builders Federation wrote to the prime minister urging more support for small and medium housebuilders after a survey found 93% of them were considering scaling back. Conversely, the Labour Party has put its head above the parapet to discuss developing on parts of the green belt.
These arguments are set to be rehearsed and refined on the doorsteps of Britain circa 15 months from now, especially in key swing seat areas of high housing demand and affordable housing need.
Nowhere is the green belt more contentious than in Sevenoaks or Tonbridge and Malling, where poor land supply positions and low housing delivery combine with authorities withdrawing their local plans amid a focus on green-belt protection and fears of Kent becoming a concrete jungle.
However, data released by Kent County Council shows just how inaccurate that view is. In those two authorities, only 1.2% and 1.7% of total land has been developed for housing, peaking at 4.2% in Thanet – staggering numbers in a county bordering Greater London and home to France’s gateway ferry terminal, supporting 33% of UK-EU trade. Not one Kent authority with designated green belt has developed more than 0.5% of its green-belt land for housing.
Kent serves as a microcosm for many other parts of the country. It shows that the narrative around building on the green belt must change. This means accepting difficult decisions need to be made by communities, authorities and developers working together for the greater good, unlocking the infrastructure we need by planning positively for growth. This is a narrative Labour is hoping to own – but with demand for housing continuing to climb up the agenda, the time for change is now.
Alex Hamlet, planner, Iceni Projects