Building on the green belt

the green belt

Being a spawn of the Evil Empire... I mean an American, you might expect me to be in favour of the rumoured plans for more building on Britain's green belt. Well, unlike a good few Conservative MPs and environmental campaigners, I am. And it's not just because I don't want to disappoint that brash American stereotype. I think I might surprise you with my reasoning.

Firstly, I really do care deeply about the environment and, having studied art and architecture at University, I care deeply about 'the built environment' and about the way things look in it as well. Growing up in the United States taught me that nature is beautiful beyond compare and that more or less everything man touches turns to shit. But living in France really changed my view on that. The natural beauty in France is amazing, surpassed only by the ancient villages dotted around the countryside. Architecture can be truly splendid and can even enhance the countryside. So why should we be afraid to build on the green belt that surrounds our urban areas?

Well, Britons do have cause for concern. Looking at some of the newer developments near to where I live, I do cringe to think of more monstrosities blighting the scenic English countryside. But hang on, aren't we talking about the wrong thing? Shouldn't we be saying 'no more ugly building'? Where is the campaign against ugly buildings?

The French seem to have this one nailed. I worked on a huge project in the South of France that needed planning permission. The drawings were submitted and approved, but the builder that I was working for liked to do his own thing. The end result only vaguely resembled the plans. Someone clocked this and the mayor of the village marched down to have a look. He said: "Yes, it looks nothing like the plans we approved. But, it's beautiful. So what's the problem?" We all had a glass of wine together on the terrace and that was that.

In terms of building, the French might say 'as long as it's beautiful' and the British might say 'as long as you follow the rules'. We all know that we need to build more houses, we just can't agree on where they should be built. But let's stop kidding ourselves. The real problem is that wherever we build, we assume it will be ugly. Imagine just for a second that every new build was the most amazing thing you've ever seen. People would be saying 'please build it in my backyard' and we wouldn't have this debate at all. Instead, we'd have a more beautiful country.

I don't see why planning can't be relaxed, as long as considerations for aesthetic value are front and centre. If proposal A is an ugly block of flats and proposal B is a stunning row of houses, I don't think the planning authorities should be afraid to grant permission to the more beautiful proposal for exactly that reason. 'Aha,' you might say . 'But what about affordable housing?' Yes, building something beautiful usually costs more and these new builds will go to well-off households. So what? Increasing the supply of housing will reduce prices across the board and other properties will become affordable. That's exactly how it works in the United States. People with more money buy new houses and people with less money buy older houses. Really old houses are obviously more again but you get the picture. The real benefit to the whole idea is that Britain will have better housing stock, more houses, more affordable houses and a better looking country. Isn't that what we all want?

Photo from Cast a Line.


  1. I am, and have been in the construction industry all my working life, so my livelyhood relies very much on building private and commercial. But once built on, the green belt has gone. We should manage what we already have more efectively.

  2. I comletely agree Ryan but the problem is never with the ideas of the Architect or the implementation of the project but the "British" way of having to comform to certain styles and regulations.

    The regulations i believe are important and there for safety reasons but unfortunately this sometimes impacts on a building project to the loss of style or radical ideas.

    How often do i drive past a different building or one that stands apart from the rest and say "if only more were like this".However if they were all like this it would again become the norm

    I would like to see more diversity in planning and design.

    By this i mean see a street with many different ideas and buildings rather than a street that looks like Lego!

    Building on a green belt can work as long as the building reflects and is enhanced by the surroundings rather than fight against it and not stand out. A block of flats would,nt look good on a hill but a house that looks like a hill on a hill would look natural.

    The dissadvantage with a property that does stand out from the rest is almost always more expensive than the others.

    I would dissagree with houses that are older are cheaper!

    One of my clients has a very old 4 storey Edwardian House in Cadogen Square and believe me it's not cheap!!!!!

    I spend every summer in Uzes in the South Of France and do agree when it comes to the medium sized French market town they do have style that is hard to match. Then again a cosy costal cottage in Cornwall comes close.....

  3. Hi I as-well rely on the construction industry so I love to see it thriving
    but there is no need to build on green belt land. in Christchurch, Dorset where I use to live we ran out of space to build new houses so instead of building on greenbelt land they started to buy houses that had a lot of land and build about 3 to 5 good size houses and they still had good gardens to them this can be adopted in many places. and the other option is places like Stoke On Trent there is an abundance of abandoned buildings

  4. There is little need to build on the green belt as most capacity is already banked with mass house builders, or their banks. It simply doesn't make sense for them to release it as this land is not in the South-east or linked to effective and economic transport.
    Cars are expensive, fuel is expensive and we are all obsessed with saving carbon for some reason...
    The land is there, (brown or greenfield), the will is there, the money and the economics of the money is not.
    The second point that you ask is whether or not this will be a boon for the trades. It wont be.
    Pre-fabrication of buildings will become the norm, and the semi-skilled labour that will work in the factories creating houses will not be tradesmen. However there will be plenty of work fixing the future equivalent of the Leylands and Rovers of these future houses.
    Pip pip!

  5. Did anybody see that program back last year or so about how many empty houses there were uninhabited in this country
    If these could be brought back to life there would be more than enough work to go around without building on green belt, what sort of place would are generations live in when all of the green belt land is built on not to mention about the effect of global warming

  6. Really interesting article!! I believe the environment should always come first regardless! I do love this site! I will be sure to check back regularly and contribute as and where I can! Looking forward to reading more articles like this! ;-)

  7. Having read the above comments id like to add that as a nation we cherish our green belt and all love to visit it walk in it holiday in it etc etc etc, and Jimmy Jon is correct in his belief that the environment should come first.
    but whether we like it or not the environment will put its self first as more and more global warming takes hold and sea levels rise people will migrate from the coasts inland and as glacial mountain rivers dry up due to 'no more ice capped peaks' people will migrate down lower inland and as deserts expand due to increased equatorial temperatures people who live at the edges now will migrate outwards.
    So with people moving down ward inward and outward it will be very hard to justify an argument to not build on Green Belt no matter what country you live in
    so the good news is more work for every one
    the bad news is its gonna be hot when were doing it.

  8. I also rely on building and construction for my living but I don't agree with snatching up great areas of green land to build on. The government will tell you we need endless numbers of new homes but then the developers have paid them to tell us that. When it all boils down it's about profits not people, there are large areas of brown field sites in all towns lets use those up and then worry what to destroy next.

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