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Persimmon in call for green belt shake-up


Britain’s biggest housebuilder has called for a review of green belt policy in the UK to allow much-needed new homes to be built.

Persimmon’s chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, said: “There are a number of cities around the country that are very constrained [by the green belt].

“As a company we’ll build on green belt sites or brown field sites – they’ve just got to be viable. If no other location is viable you need to be able to build on the green belt.”

Moves to build on green belt land are generally hotly contested, and bodies such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England have spoken out about the need to continue to restrict development.

The National Planning Policy Framework, introduced in March 2012, was designed to improve that protection, but others think the demand for new homes has become so desperate that the rules need to be adjusted in some areas.

The controversial statements from Mr Fairburn, on BBC’s Today programme, came as the group reported a strong first-half profit leap.

It reported a 57 per cent jump in first-half pre-tax profit to £212.9m and said it had sold 6,408 new homes in the six months to July. Mr Fairburn said half-year revenue was up 33 per cent to £1.2bn.

Persimmon said it was selling homes from 380 developments and expected this number to remain stable throughout this year as it opened 100 new sites during the second half.

Mr Fairburn believes the York-based developer would be able to provide more homes if some elements of protection were changed to allow building close to existing towns.

The housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis said earlier this month: “There is enough brownfield land to deliver up to 200,000 new homes, and councils should be using their powers and the support that’s available from the Government to prioritise development on these sites, and defend our valuable countryside against urban sprawl.”

He added: “The most recent official statistics show that the level of green belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989.”

Government figures show that between 2009 and 2010 only 115,000 new homes were built in England – fewer than any year in peace time since the 1920s – and nearly a quarter of a million homes in England have stood empty for more than six months.

The Government has been trying to help the housing market with strategies including Help to Buy and funding for builders through the Get Britain Building policy.

Protected: Areas of beauty

About 13 per cent of land in England is classed as green belt; about 9 per cent of land is developed.

The Government has said it wants to prevent urban sprawl on green belt land – areas that it deems important to keep open and free of development. Other protected areas include Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks, which together with green belt land make up about a third of England.

The latest Government figures show a loss of only around 0.02 per cent of the total green belt.