When debating the green belt we can’t see the wood for the trees

Arguments over development of the green belt miss the point; the answer to our housing crisis lies in our cities

As Policy Exchange has published a report asking why we are aren’t building enough attractive homes, I’d like to pose a second question: what exactly is an attractive home?

Many first-time buyers and young professionals consider an attractive property to be an affordable home close to their place of work within a city centre. They are more concerned about price and location than expensive apartments situated around the “desirable” green belt.

There are many derelict buildings, brownfield and abandoned sites in city centres. Our focus should be on transforming these areas into affordable developments, leaving the green belt untouched.

Councils are responsible for half all public land which is fit for residential development. With private investment, this land could be quickly turned into affordable housing, helping us to solve the housing crisis while also raising funds for cash-strapped councils. It could transform local eyesores into communities where people want to live and work.

There is enough brownfield land to create 1m affordable homes – not to mention the thousands of buildings and stalled projects on developers’ books – yet the focus is already turning towards developing touched land. When it comes to the green belt, we can’t see the wood for the trees.

Before these buildings and sites can to be put to good use local authorities need to be more open about what property they own, working with reputed developers to release derelict, unused stock for development. We are not calling for land or property to be simply gifted away, yet the only thing holding developers back is co-operation with local authorities.

At Fresh Start Living, we have two developments in central Manchester that are stalled due to section 106 agreements that were put in place before we acquired the development, and prior to the downturn in the property market. As soon as this red tape is removed, we can begin work to bring more than 200 affordable apartments on to the market in a prime city location. This will breathe new life into the area, benefitting the local community in the urban area – and importantly the green belt around the city won’t be affected.

We are also working hard to acquire another development which we want to transform into 180 homes. It has been sat empty for 10 years, yet we are being blocked by a local authority.

There is a desperate need for affordable housing in the UK in urban locations, and both private developers and local authorities must play their part in tackling the problem. So before looking at green belt land, let’s look closer to home and focus our attentions on the buildings and sites sat dormant in our cities.

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