Plans to build hundreds of homes on Sunderland’s green belt will do nothing to help ease the affordable housing crisis, campaigners have warned.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says the public are being “sold a lie” by developers keen to “gobble up” protected green belt land to build homes that will be unaffordable to those most in need of them.
The group has reviewed local plans from across England for its annual ‘State of the Green Belt’ report.
According to the study, local authorities are planning to allow almost 460,000 homes to be built on the country’s green belt to help meet housing targets.
In Sunderland, the CPRE has identified plans to build 1,175 homes on green belt land.
The land is part of the wider Tyne and Wear Green Belt, across which 13,830 homes are expected to be built.
However, the CPRE says that there are enough brownfield sites – land which has been built on before – in Sunderland to build a minimum of 4,633 homes, which they argue should be prioritised over green belt developments.
At least 3,054 of these brownfield homes could be built within the next five years.
Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at CPRE, says green belt land is being “eroded at an alarming rate” across the country.
Far from providing the solution to the affordable housing crisis, he continued, building on green belt land is serving only to further “entrench the issue”.
If local affordable housing targets are applied to green belt developments in Sunderland, only 15% would meet the Government’s definition of affordable.
However, the CPRE’s analysis shows that there is often a gap between planning targets and what is actually approved by local authorities.
The average target across local authorities in England is for 31% of new homes to be affordable.
According to the CPRE though, only 22% of housing units that currently have planning permission meet the definition of affordable.
On greenfield sites, which is land that has never been built on before, the figure is 27%.
England’s green belt areas, which cover approximately 13% of the country, were established with the aim of stopping urban areas encroaching too far into the countryside.
Local authorities can propose to release land from the green belt entirely in “exceptional circumstances” or otherwise approve developments in “very special circumstances”.
However, the CPRE says that both these bars are currently “set too low”.
Since 2009-10, plans for around 207,000 homes on England’s green belt land have been submitted. Just under 65,000 have been approved, while around 105,000 of them have yet to be decided.
The CPRE is now calling on the Government to address the affordable housing crisis with “increasing urgency” by instead prioritising development on brownfield sites.
Mr Fyans added: “The Government is failing in its commitment to protect the green belt.
“It is essential, if the green belt is to fulfil its main purposes and provide 30 million of us with access to the benefits of the countryside, that the redevelopment of brownfield land is prioritised, and green belt protection strengthened.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are clear that building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up our countryside.
“Last year the number of new homes built was the highest in a decade, and only 0.02 per cent of the green belt was developed for residential use.
“We are adding more certainty to the planning system and our new planning rulebook strengthens national protections for the green belt, and says that councils may only alter boundaries in exceptional circumstances once they have looked at all other options.”