Green Belts/Urban Growth limits Increase Construction (for a Time)

Kip Jackson at LSE

[Studying in California] Taken as a whole, regulation reduces residential development. However, the degree to which individual regulations affect development varies, and some “anti-growth” policies actually increase development (at least in the short run). …

While commonly touted as an effective remedy to urban sprawl, I find that urban growth boundaries (also known as “green belts”) actually increase the construction of single-family homes. Urban growth boundarieshave been shown to increase the value of new homes, so it is not surprising that development would accelerate until abutting on the established boundary.

It is easy to forget the policy intent of Green Belt was never primarily to protect the countryside – rather it was to prevent urban sprawl by shaping urban growth.  Indeed Green Belt was promoted in periods when there was widespread consensus about the need to dramatically increase housebuilding.

Consider Circular 1/55 where the purpose was to ‘[check] the unrestricted sprawl of the built up area and of safeguarding the surrounding countryside against further encroachment’

The purpose was not to prevent all growth but ‘unrestricted growth’ and the surrounding area was that surrounding the inner limits of Green Belt where growth was permitted to grow to.

This double purpose of Green Belt was implicit rather than explicit in the poorly worded 1/55.  The pioneers of Green Belt such as Unwin and Abercrombie were clearer on its purpose – as a long term land bank shaping urban form and providing recreational opportunities.

For example in Unwins 1929 Gre4ater London Plan

Regional Planning consists primarily in the laying down of an appropriate design for urban growth. The plan or pattern of development should be laid out on a field or background of open land. The difficulty hitherto has been that no such background is in fact available. All land is assumed to be potential building land; and the reservation of any tracts from use for building development may be sufficient to constitute such land in the words of the Town Planning Acts “property injuriously affected” and to establish claims for compensation. The result is that Town Planners have been constrained to design rather meager patterns of open space on a background of potential building land.

If the contrary method were adopted, and the areas adequate to meet any extent of urban or suburban growth which can be foreseen were planned on a secure background of open land, a true proportion between the two could be maintained. Open space for public enjoyment by the growing population could then be secured upon the free land as and when required. This wider aspect of the matter, and the possibility that additional powers may render the correct method of planning practicable, will be discussed in a. later section. In the meantime it must be recognized that, with the existing powers, the only possible way of restraining sporadic developments from ruining the remaining tracts of land which have special suitability for playing fields or other kinds of open space, is to acquire or preserve those areas in adequate quantity for present and probable future needs. (Illustrations 13 to 16 & 42).

The problem now being that this positive purpose – the regional planning purpose has gone – Green Belt became a purely negative concept.

So I dont suggest that Green Belt is abolished or weakened, rather that is original dual purpose is rediscovered, that it becomes a container of land banks and is redrawn where necessary to allow for New Towns/Garden Cities and Sustinable extensions/Garden Suburbs, with the Green ‘background’ used as publicly accessible open sapce where prcticable.

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