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Review of green belt ‘long overdue’

Words: Laura Edgar
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London needs to look at all options, including green belts releases, if it is to meet the demand for housing, agreed speakers at a London Irish Town Planners (LITP) network seminar.

The seminar considered ‘meeting housing demand in an Irish and London context’.

Adele Maher, strategic planning manager at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council suggested that the capital “needs to look at all options” to meet housing need, including suburban and town centre intensification, selective green belt release and industrial co-location.

She noted that one of the challenges for London in building more homes is to retain the diversity that makes the capital an “attractive” location from an economic perspective.

Gerry Hughes, chief executive at Bilfinger GVA, agreed with Maher. He said “a structured review of the green belt is long overdue” and such a review could take place on land surrounding major transport nodes.

Hughes contended that there is “more than enough land to build homes” in London and that the issues are not “land supply, planning or finance” but the capacity of the market to deliver. He said London is still a relatively low-density city and that there is still regular resistance to densification, which does not necessarily equate to tall buildings.

Maher discussed population growth, which in London is growing by about 76,000 people a year. This creates a huge demand for houses, she said, with the required number standing at 50,000 new homes. According to Maher, 59,000 homes are being permitted annually, but a “significant” number of these are not being brought forward for development.

Hughes suggested that the Estate Renewals Programme and Housing Zones are two potential schemes that could deliver more housing in London.

Aidan Culhane, consultant at WK Nowlan Real Estate Advisors in Dublin, gave an overview of how the Irish housing sector is recovering after the economic downturn.

He explained that Dublin is experiencing high demand for housing, which is not replicated in the rest of Ireland.

It is evident, Culhane said, that there is a two-speed economy, with significant demand in Dublin for both the sales and rental markets. In comparison, there is an oversupply of housing stock in more rural parts of the country, particularly around the Shannon Basin.

The challenge of providing housing is not simply a case of supply and demand, but is subject to other variables, notably for Culhane, access to credit and wider economic growth.

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