Free 2% of green belt land to build 8 million homes, report urges

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The Government should build on green belt land to meet the needs of Britain's housing shortage, according a right-wing think tank that was founded by the new planning minister, Nick Boles.

In a report that roundly condemns the UK's current planning system, Policy Exchange claims that releasing 2 per cent of land in England would allow the construction of 8 million family homes. The Government recently indicated it would look at relaxing planning regulations to boost house-building in the UK. Mr Boles, who founded Policy Exchange in 2002, was appointed planning minister in last week's cabinet reshuffle.

Arguing that the UK does not have sufficient capacity on its brownfield sites to build more than a million new homes, the report recommends that central and local governments should make it easier for local people to give their approval for selected developments on greenfield sites.

"Just 6 to 10 per cent of England has been developed and only 2.3 per cent has been 'concreted over'," the report, by Alex Morton, states. "It is artificial scarcity created by planning we are concerned with. Releasing just 2 per cent of our land would allow 8 million family homes.

"There is a myth we have lots of brownfield land. Such derelict land exists for 1 million homes but this is only a few years supply, and is in areas we need it less. London has such land for just 30,000 homes."

The report argues that the UK is caught in a "failing cycle" of excessive local council control and poorly designed central government interference and recommends that decision-making be placed in the hands of local people. Communities that back greenfield development in their area could be compensated by building new parks and recreation areas, according to the report.

The report is likely to be welcomed by Mr Boles, who has described the opponents of planning deregulation as "latter-day Luddites". However, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), a vocal critic of planning deregulation, said the report failed to consider the importance of the green belt.

"The planning system plays an important role in providing the development we need in the right places," said Kate Houghton, planning officer at the CPRE. "We need to use our land resource carefully. It's not just about protecting individual neighbourhoods, but that we also protect the countryside for future generations."