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14/08/2015

Building in the green belt could increase car journeys, RTPI research finds

Words: Laura Edgar

Building near to train stations in the London green belt could add an extra 7.5 million car journeys every week, according to new research by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

Building in the green belt? A report into commuting patterns in the Metropolitan green belt (PDF) includes analysis by the RTPI of commuting data from the 2011 census. It finds that adding one million homes near railway stations in the Metropolitan London green belt could increase car journeys each week by 3.9-7.5 million.

The report challenges the assumption that building in the green belt within easy walking or cycling distance of railway stations would see the majority of new residents using the train to get to jobs in London.

Think tanks, academics and policy commentators have, the RTPI says, considered whether green belt boundaries around London should be relaxed to help alleviate the housing crisis.

In February this year, London First, Quod planning consultancy and Professor Paul Cheshire from the London School of Economics released The Green Belt: A Place For Londoners?  It said that the starting point for a green belt review should be to consider only the areas that are to near to existing transport networks, “are of poor environmental or civic value” and could address the capital’s housing need. 

The assumption behind such proposals, the RTPI report highlights, is that new residents will commute by rail to jobs in central London, enabling sustainable housing growth without increasing the strain on roads.

The report analysed those already living in the Metropolitan green belt to see where and how they were travelling to work in order to establish commuter patterns.

"These figures demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the reasoning that there is a quick fix and a sustainable solution to the housing crisis by putting large numbers of new homes close to railway stations"

Commuting data for Hemel Hempstead, High Wycombe, Watford, Maidenhead and Bracknell - all centred around railway stations - showed that 7.4 per cent of commuters travel to London by train on a regular basis. 72 per cent travel by car, mostly to jobs “within their hometown and to other places not in London.”

Janet Askew, president of the RTPI, said: “Quite apart from other good reasons why building in the green belt on such a scale might be opposed, these figures demonstrate a fundamental flaw in the reasoning that there is a quick fix and a sustainable solution to the housing crisis by putting large numbers of new homes close to railway stations. While it is difficult to predict exactly future commuting patterns, the overwhelming evidence is that people will use their cars and this will result in vastly increased numbers of car journeys in and through the green belt.”

RTPI chief executive Trudi Elliott said the outcome of the analysis was surprising given the “range of voices calling for housing around railway stations in the green belt”.

The data, Elliott said, shows how complex the issue of commuting patterns is and how unpredictable they are likely to be in the future.

“The green belt is an important planning tool. Our findings demonstrate that it is vital to have an evidence base before you make major policy,” she concluded.

Instead, the RTPI believes that while not all will be suitable, brownfield sites should be looked at as a priority for housing. Additionally, increasing access to mortgage finance, improving transport and infrastructure, encouraging house builders to build more homes and “a strong, delivery focused planning system” all need to be considered.


Download Building in the green belt? A report into commuting patterns in the Metropolitan green belt (PDF)

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