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David Rudlin (new Chair of the Academy of Urbanism) responds to todays Housing White Paper

Tuesday 7th February, 2017

The Academy of Urbanism welcomes the broad thrust of the housing white paper. The way we develop new homes has a huge effect on the quality of our towns and cities and the failure to build enough homes in recent years and the poor quality of much of what has been built has undermined the quality of urban areas and turned the public against the very idea of development. The initiatives to broaden the number of housing providers including more rented housing, direct development by councils, encouragement for smaller builders and self-build and custom-build is all very encouraging. We need more homes and more varied homes encouraging greater innovation and providing greater choice and so if the white paper achieves that then it will be positive.

The message on the greenbelt is more complicated. The claim that only 13% of England is greenbelt and therefore there is plenty of space elsewhere is disingenuous. The Academy of Urbanism agrees that the first priority for new housing should be within existing towns and cities and supports measures to bring forward brownfield development and the more intensive use of existing urban areas. However, there are many places where there simply isn’t the space to build the homes we need within the urban area. This includes places like Oxford and Cambridge but is also the case in London and the larger cities. The answer to the growth of these places is not to export their new housing to distant green fields beyond the green belt. These cities should be allowed to build in sustainable locations that can be connected to public transport and existing infrastructure – most of which will be in the greenbelt.

This is not an argument against the greenbelt; it has served us well for 60 years and must be retained and strengthened. However, things are generally stronger when they are allowed to stretch and flex rather than being pulled tight to the point where they burst. We needs to be able to allow growing cities to plan properly for their expansion by adjusting their greenbelts. The government could never say this, of course. But the provisions in the white paper for a sequential approach to identifying housing land and the acceptance that elected mayors and planning authorities may change greenbelt boundaries (and take the flak for doing so) may mean that this is exactly what is written between the lines of the white paper.

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