Government 'must consider more housing on green belt', says infrastructure advisor

The head of the government's infrastructure advisory body, Sir John Armitt, has called on ministers to ease restrictions on green belt development to avoid the "silly" development of houses on floodplains.

Flooding (pic: Tony Armstrong Slyvia)
Flooding (pic: Tony Armstrong Slyvia)

According to an article in today's Times newspaper, Sir John, chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, said that if councils are going to stop "silly" building on floodplains, the government must accept the need for large-scale housing on rural land.

He said that criticism of develoment being allowed on floodplains "opens up some probably difficult debates about, ‘Well if I’m not going to build there, where am I going to build them? I’m going to have to take some green belt in order to achieve that extra housing’".

"At the moment the housing stock in this country covers only one per cent of our landmass. Green belt covers 13 per cent. As we hear time and time again there’s some pretty scrappy green belt" he added.

Responding to Sir John’s comments, Crispin Truman, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "The green belt is so much more than undeveloped land — it helps us lock in carbon emissions to tackle the climate emergency and soaks in water instead of releasing it downstream to alleviate flooding.

"It provides space for nature to thrive and is the countryside next door for 30 million people, many of whom regularly tap into its health and wellbeing benefits. Planners and the government must build on brownfield sites first with a long-term commitment to protecting and enhancing the green belt."

The government is due to respond to the NIC's National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA), which was published in July 2018, in next week's Budget when it publishes its first National Infrastructure Strategy.

The NIA called for city leaders and metro mayors to develop and implement "integrated strategies for transport, employment and housing" and be granted greater planning decision-making powers by 2021.

Last week, the final report of a commission chaired by the former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, said the NIC should prepare a national spatial plan for England to address the problem of "incremental, short-term and ad hoc" government policy that has no "proper planning context".

Also last week, the NIC called on ministers to this year confirm the route for the proposed Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor expressway and warned that there is "still a long way to go" to boost housing delivery in the area to reach the levels needed.

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