Why we should protect the greenbelt
After the disappointing result of the 2017 general election, Conservatives searched for answers to explain why voters under 40 were turning away from them. The conventional wisdom seems to be that the loss of voters was due to a lack of housing, leading to calls from many figures on the right to build housing on the greenbelt. Arguably it is already a moot point as the housing crisis was just as prevalent in 2015, yet the Conservatives still won a majority. Nevertheless, I do not believe this is the correct way to address to the lack of housing.
it is important to note that the primary reason behind the greenbelt is to prevent urban sprawl. If we were to move to a libertarian system of completely deregulated house building, there would be nothing to stop London, Manchester, Birmingham and other big cities expanding unchecked into the nearby areas, as happens with American cities.
As a party, we Conservatives should believe in preserving traditional communities, rather than trampling over them and merging them with the grey, polluted, monotonous cities. For example, in Havering, which is officially part of London, many residents feel no affinity or connection to “their” city, associating more with Essex. This problem of identity would spread far and wide as more towns and villages lose their unique character as they are swallowed up by the behemoth cities nearby.
The maintenance of the greenbelt also means natural habitats for our most precious endangered wildlife. Many British animals have seen massive decreases in population the last 50 to 100 years. This includes a range of species from red squirrels, hedgehogs and even cuckoos. These declines in population are often due to or accelerated by habitat loss. The destruction of the green belt would therefore, only result in even more of this vital habitat being lost. Only accelerating the loss of England’s rich diversity in wildlife. Once this land has been converted to housing these habitats are lost forever.
I do accept that more houses need to be built, however this can be done without destroying the green belt. The Campaign to Protect Rural England, working with the University of the West of England, concluded that a million new homes can be built on brownfield land. While building on brownfield land does has clean-up costs associated, it saves the money and environmental impact of needing to build new infrastructure, as brownfield sites are usually within existing population centres. We must also look at long term solutions to the housing crisis rather than just the sticking plaster of more house building – reducing mass immigration and rebalancing the economy away from London are vital if we want a country that works for everyone.
Ultimately, the Conservative Party must resist the siren calls of those who want to allow for developers to destroy our natural heritage. The housing crisis is an undeniable problem, but the solution must not involve destroying the greenbelt. Our rural landscapes are something we must cherish and pass down for the next generation to enjoy.