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Greenbelt and Affordable Housing

Greenbelt and Affordable HousingGreenbelt land in the UK is different from Greenfield sites. Greenbelt land is a defined area of land that is around an existing developed area, usually a city or town, with a specific purpose. A Greenbelt land is identified in a Council's Structure Plan and its boundaries are defined in the local plan. The first official proposal to establish Greenbelt land dates back to 1935 by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee that wanted to reserve a supply of public open space along with recreational areas.

Then in 1947, the Town and Country Planning Act let local authorities include Greenbelts in the development plan. However, the true Greenbelt was established in 1955 as the result of a historic circular from the UK's government inviting local planning authorities from outside of London to think about creating Greenbelts. Today, Greenbelts must be approved through local planning authorities "Structure Plan", covering approximately 1.5 million hectares, which is about 12% of England. In all, there are 14 separate Greenbelts, each different in size, anywhere from 486,000 hectares around the London area to 700 hectares around Burton-on-Trent.

Because the original purchase of Greenbelts was for securing or protecting open space, restrictions on development are much stricter. However, there are exceptions sites for local needs housings found in the Planning Policy Guidance Note 3. For instance, one of things found is that about 50% of Greenbelt authorities believe the guidance did not apply to them because the local housing needs should be met in nearby towns or because the protection of Greenbelt overrode their authority.

The problem is that suitable land for housing development in the UK is in great shortage. Many people believe Greenbelt land would be ideal but because it was designed as protected "recreational" space, it is simply being wasted. In fact, some people will go as far as to say that the critical shortage of affordable housing in the UK has led to a serious decline of the cherished village life.

Today, we see groups of activists, developers, and private builders coming together to call upon the UK's government to reform the planning procedures specific to Greenbelts so that rural communities would have the opportunity to create more affordable housing by building on Greenbelt countryside. To these people, while the land is beautiful, it is simply open space that nothing is being done with. In the meantime, you see overcrowding or people living in slum situations because they cannot afford to live in nice areas.

One of the problems is that there is a definite decline in the provision of social housing. This together with the influx of wealthy commuters, holiday homers, and retirees has forced the younger generation to move out from the villages, trying to find affordable homes and jobs just so they can live and raise their family in decent conditions. Unfortunately, this has resulted in many of the traditional rural communities being broken up and destroyed. The solution - freeing up some of the Greenbelt land so that affordable housing could be built, allowing these younger generations to have nice homes and to raise their families where and how they want.

Sadly, the government has not been responsive to the request of various groups desperately trying to make their point about Greenbelt land and affordable housing. In fact, the future of the rural community is only worsening. The bottom line is that the UK's government has turned its back to this serious problem, completely failing to invest in the need for social housing. Today, we see almost 20% of the population living in market towns and villages with the Housing Corporation providing just 2% of its budget to rural development. With social housing now consisting of 16% and more of the rural housing stock, which is compared to 23% in urban areas, you can see that this problem is serious and only becoming worse.

To make the issue even more challenging, the government has done very little to assist the rural communities and the changing situations. Because of this, we now see numerous rural communities in the UK in major decline. In fact, the Rural Development Commission recently conducted a survey in which 28% of rural parishes just in England did not have a village hall, 29% did not have a pub, 29% did not have a school, 42% did not have a shop, and 43% did not have a post office.

As a result, of this problem, we now see the number of proposals to help free up Greenbelt land to make way for affordable housing growing significantly. The call for action currently being addressed is a flexible approach for agricultural land to be used for development, assessing applications based on quality, local circumstances, and overall merits. In addition, this call for action is asking the Housing Corporation to increase its investment to 15% and suggesting that local authorities acquire land and borrow private funds to build new houses.

Yes, Greenbelt land is needed and it is important but the fact is that the demands for affordable housing in the UK have reached serious levels to where now, something needs to be done so people are put first before recreational land. This means releasing some of the Greenbelt land to build affordable housing. Keep in mind that not all of the Greenbelt land would have to be released but enough so families can afford to live, as they should.

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