Unlocking the green belt: a solution to the housing crisis

Picture of David Heasman

David Heasman
September 22, 2022
Read time: minute(s)

It’s no secret that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. 

As of 2021, England is 78,500 homes short of the government’s much advertised 300,000 homes a year goal – 74% of the target.

The South East, an area of high demand, continues to struggle with housing performance. Nearly a third of its local authorities are under 75% of their targets, facing the worst consequence of the Housing Delivery Test – presumption. 

And high demand and low supply means that house prices continue to rise – they’ve risen 28% in the past five years.

Options to solve this crisis?

Many solutions have been proposed and executed over the years to this crisis: 

  • A register of brownfield sites
  • Various grants and funding aid to help remediate brownfield sites
  • Easing of permitted development, and "right to rise" rules

But there is one other thing that can help deliver the homes the country desperately needs – releasing land from the green belt. 

Here’s our own Grace Manning-Marsh talking about it on the BBC:



How many homes could we get from the green belt?

This is, quite understandably, a controversial point. For many people, the term “green belt” is emotionally (or politically) loaded. It’s not just a land classification, but rather, an embodiment of England’s green and rolling fields. 

But this isn’t what the green belt is. The green belt is allocated land to stop urban expansion. 

Areas of the country that are known for their greenery, like Devon and Suffolk, they don’t have any designated green belt at all.



We presented some analysis at Housing 2021 which showed that if we released just one per cent of the green belt we could deliver a year’s worth of new housing (over 300,000 homes at a generous 41 dwellings per hectare).



Click here to watch the on-demand webinar of our analysis on using the green belt to solve the housing crisis.


A controversial point

There are various benefits if we release the green belt to deliver new homes:

  • Protected land that should be protected, remains protected
  • We build on existing infrastructure, reducing costs, and environmental damage
  • We build homes where people want to live

We know this is a controversial point. In fact, it’s so controversial that when our own Matt Cawley and Callum Healy presented on the topic at Housing 2021, they were heckled. 

(The heckler later apologised, as they had come in late, and didn’t have the full context. But, further proof that the green belt is an emotive topic).

However, it’s a subject worth exploring. 

In the on-demand webinar version of the presentation you can hear Matt and Callum talk about:

  • Data on how many people know what the green belt is (it’s less than you think)
  • Areas that have been building more homes than before, but are still under-delivering on their targets
  • A full breakdown of what is and isn’t green belt (you’ll be surprised what is classed as green belt)

Click the button below to view the presentation: 

Watch the webinar on demand