Ministers should allow new towns to be built on Green Belt land around the edge of cities to deal with Britain's housing crisis, a think-tank with close links to David Cameron recommends today.
In a controversial report Policy Exchange claims that the green belt is having negative effects on the economy and quality of life.
It refutes the idea that there are enough brown field sites to cope with future housing needs adding that much green belt land is not of any great natural beauty and failure to build on it is having a negative effect on the economy.
“We would not lose if the more brown parts of the green belt become attractive suburbs like Fulham, Richmond, Clifton in Bristol or Didsbury in Manchester bringing with them a wave of green public space and parks,” the report concludes.
“Green belts will hold back our cities, reducing their ability to both regenerate and grow. If we cannot build on green belts we simply build on other green field sites or destroy urban green space.”
The report, Cities for Growth, by what has often been dubbed Mr Cameron’s favourite think tank is on this occasion unlikely to be welcomed by ministers.
They are embroiled in a bitter dispute with groups such as the National Trust and the Council for the Protection of Rural England over more modest proposals to open up the planning system for more development.
Critics are likely to seize on its recommendations as evidence that parts of the Government secretly wants to go much further than the current system allows and scrap the highly symbolic concept of the green belt altogether.
But report’s author argues that the green belt planning restrictions which date back to 1935 are out of date.
“Green belt should be redesignated, with the attractive parts of the 33 per cent that is not either intensive farming or already developed becoming part of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty," it says.
“The problem with the green belt policy at present is that it ignores land quality, so if we are to allow some development in the green belt then we need to protect the more attractive areas that exist within it.”
But the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England described the report’s ideas as “wrongheaded and unpopular”.
The campaign's spokesman Jack Neill-Hall said: “I hope this report fall of deaf ears in Government because public opinion is overwhelmingly against it.
“The Green belt has helped protect against urban sprawl and the encouraged the regeneration of town and city centres.
“The last thing we need is more dormitory downs where people need a car to get anywhere and which don’t have proper services.”
But Policy Exchange argues that the government’s housing plans will not produce enough new, good quality homes in places people actually want to live and point out that between 2001-2008, nearly 1million people migrated away from urban areas due to the cost and quality of housing.
It adds that if the UK is going to compete with Asia we need to attract new workers, especially young people to live in close proximity to cities.
Alex Morton, author of the report, said: “Building new garden cities sounds radical. But we have successful examples in the UK, from the original garden cities to new towns like Milton Keynes and major planned developments like Docklands and the Olympic site.
“There are significant advantages in concentrating a lot of development in one place, allowing proper planning for infrastructure, and allowing us to create green and pleasant places to live.”