We need affordable housing, so let's build on the green belt

Study shows that housing is still outrageously unaffordable, and we’re ready for extreme action

Should we build new homes on the green belt?

A quarter of people say they cannot afford to buy a property in their local area - largely because prices are increasing at twice the rate of wages. We're getting so fed up with the lack of affordable housing that we're ready for some pretty radical solutions - including building on the green belt.

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A new study by Cicero Research found that people are happy to fork out 4.7 times earning for a property. Unfortunately given that the average salary is £27,600, this means they'd consider £130,000 a reasonable amount to pay for a home - and there are plenty of areas where that wouldn't buy you anything more than a shoebox.

In fact, the average property costs £234,000 - or around 8.7 times the average salary. It's the kind of multiple that most people would have enormous trouble convincing a mortgage lender was affordable.

It's hardly surprising therefore that 65% of people say that all or most local housing is no longer affordable. In the south east things are even worse - and some 37% of people said there's absolutely nothing in their price range.

What can be done?

The researchers concluded that prices need to fall dramatically to enable people to be able to afford to buy a home of their own. Some 40% of people wanted to see the government build more social housing to make it easier for first time buyers to afford a property. Meanwhile 36% of people would like the government to focus on building for the elderly - so they could downsize from large properties and free up more housing stock.

One fifth of people would like to see developers being forced to use their land to build houses sooner rather than later - rather than sitting on a huge landbank.

And we're getting desperate enough to consider some serious steps. Some 13% of people say they would be happy to see more homes built on the green belt.

What's the problem?

The heart of the problem is that simply not enough houses are being built. The issue boils down to the fact that land with planning permission is too thin on the ground. It means that this land commands an enormous premium, and trades hands many times before any building starts - building an awful lot of extra cost into the process.

Developers then have to ensure they sell the property for higher prices in order to make a profit (after the cost of the land is factored in). This means they drag their feet because they don't want to flood the market - for fear of depressing local house prices.

It's therefore in the industry's interests to build too slowly, and keep prices high.

If a shortage of land with planning permission is the issue, then there's an argument that large swathes of the greenbelt ought to be allocated to house-building. That way developers could buy the land less expensively, build faster and more cheaply, and still make money.

It could create hundreds of thousands of new affordable houses, and doesn't have to eat up the countryside. For every field allocated to housing on the outskirts of the city, another field further away - where there's no demand for housing - could be designated as part of the green belt.

It's an idea that has some support from the experts. The Royal Town Planning Institute reported in November that the housing crisis needed fresh thinking, and that as well as brownfield building, the green belt needed to be up for debate. Phil Williams, RTPI President, said: "This is not a crude green light that says 'build on the Green Belt', but we need a new approach to enable greenfield sites and green belt sites to be regarded more positively by local authorities, politicians and communities."

But what do you think? would you like to see us build on the green belt in order to make housing more affordable, or is expensive property a price worth paying for protecting the countryside? Let us know in the comments.

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