i Editor's Letter: Why use the green belt when we have other solutions to the housing crisis?


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The Independent Online


Blunt words from Planning minister Nick Boles on i's front page yesterday. It is clearly a subject you care about hugely. If the NHS is one defining attribute of Britain, then our verdant countryside is another. Any perceived threat to its glory is sure to come under scrutiny and fire.

Boles knows this. So he would not make stark statements like "we need a third more land to build on" lightly. Then, there is the sobering statistic that we are building 100,000 fewer homes a year than we need. The number of UK households will grow by about 230,000 annually over the next decade, but only 117,000 new homes were built last year.

But this tells only half the real story. Thousands of homes lie empty currently, while a generation of young hopefuls finds it nigh-on impossible to get a mortgage. There are many desolate inner-city and other "brown" sites that are crying out to be turned into homes, not offices that will simply remain empty for years.

Boles also said we needed more homes to give today's youth the "basic, moral right" to an affordable home. Hmm. He is referring to home "ownership" of course, which in many modern societies, from New York to Paris, is neither a "basic, moral right" nor the universal aspiration it is here.

Forget the owning or renting debate, for many right now, both are pipe-dreams for the trapped-at-home generation forced to still live with their parents. Boles certainly got the media coverage he desired via his remarks, but his words only scratch at the surface of an issue of growing concern to an ever-widening percentage of the population.