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Greenbelt not working, says RIBA report

Words: Sam Waddicor
Reports on desk

The next UK government needs to end risk-averse NIMBY planning policy and build on greenbelt land if it wants to solve the housing crisis, according to a report from the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The report, Building A Better Britain: A vision for the next Government (pdf), by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) sets out a number of recommendations for the next government on how to improve quality of life for the UK's residents in town and country.

In particular, RIBA targets four areas where it wants to see firm commitments from the next government: planning, health, schools and greenbelt land.

On planning, the report calls for the development of a National Spatial Strategy as, it says, too often planning decisions are taken on a local piecemeal basis when what is required is a document that can allow long-term major infrastructure decisions to be made across a political cycle. The report also thinks the government needs to go beyond City Deals to create autonomous city regions that have access to large amounts of sustainable funding.

A re-evaluation of greenbelt land should form part of this process because it isn't working, the report argues. Rather than helping to consolidate urban cores, the report's writers claim, the presence of greenbelt pushes developers into jumping over protected land to build in genuine countryside.

The report calls for a government-led review to help compile an evidence base that can support local authorities in making greenbelt planning decisions. In particular, the report sees a situation where with the right approach and government encouragement local authorities would develop low-value green belt land to unlock and develop difficult brownfield sites.

RIBA’s report also critiques the approaches of previous governments to building schools. According to their figures, some 80 per cent of schools are operating beyond their life cycle and that more than 75 per cent contain asbestos. RIBA says that the current school building programme is too cheap and baseline designs are too small, with new builds 15 per cent smaller than the previous government programme. To remedy this, the report calls for a 20 per cent increase in spending on each new school.

On health the RIBA report argues that, with the nation experiencing an obesity epidemic and some 59 per cent of people not exercising enough, government should commit 10 per cent of the transport budget to promoting "active transport" such as walking and cycling. The organisation feels that this would encourage more people to not use their cars, which would have the double impact of reducing congestion and also, possibly, saving the NHS upwards of £675m by improving the nation’s health.

RIBA President Stephen Hodder said: “The next UK government should empower our cities, towns and villages to prosper and provide the homes, education, services and jobs that are vital for the nation; it needs to look at architecture and the built environment as part of the solution.

“Reform of the greenbelt, building more new homes, tackling the failed current school building programme and empowering English cities to compete on the global stage must be priorities.”