“I fear that the leadership of my party has caved into pressure from developers, who find brownfield projects to be more costly and difficult to deliver.”
The demand for housing does not mean we should abandon commitments to protecting the environment – central government must not ride roughshod over local democracy, writes Jon Trickett MP
I live in a beautiful part of the country. The green fields of Yorkshire are famous across the world and when you come here you can see why it is known as “God’s own County.”
The constituency of Hemsworth that I represent is home to ancient woodland and a number of rare and endangered bird and animal species. The destruction of habitats like these are causing untold damage to our planet. Every extinction has a knock-on-impact on the wider eco-system and causes escalating levels of environmental destruction. This plays a significant role in climate change.
My area is also home to a number of former pit villages. Coal mining formed the bedrock of our local community for centuries. Now former colliery sites that lay abandoned after they were closed in the 80s and 90s have been turned into country parks.
Many former miners suffer from lung problems as a result of their time down the pits. With such high levels of air pollution caused by motor vehicles, our green spaces are an important lifeline for them. In my view, everyone, regardless of social class, should have access to beautiful green spaces and fresh air.
As a Member of Parliament, I believe it’s my responsibility to protect our environment, maintain our beautiful countryside and pass down a liveable planet to those who come after us.
But our green spaces are under threat. Increasingly we are seeing pressure applied on local councils to build on green belt land.
In Parliament I have spoken out about this important issue. Earlier this year I submitted an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill that would prevent building on areas with vulnerable and endangered species and ancient woodland.
I have also raised objections both nationally and locally to proposed housing developments which I believe fall foul of the aforementioned criteria. In my view, we should not be looking to build on green belt land except for in extreme circumstances.
Research by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has found that there are 115,000 potential brownfield sites in our county alone, and tens of thousands more are ‘land banked’ with planning consent already given for housing.
Therefore it is disappointing to hear Keir Starmer say that a Labour government would challenge planning laws to make it easier to build on green belt land. He has indicated that this may mean overruling councils.
This is the wrong priority when there are so many brownfield sites available. I fear that the leadership of my party has caved into pressure from developers, who find brownfield projects to be more costly and difficult to deliver.
When considering where to put new housing we must also take into account the local infrastructure. It’s no good building new housing if it means there won’t be enough schools, GPs, hospitals or roads to accomodate new people, as is often the case in communities such as mine with large green spaces.
In addition, I’ve far too often seen new houses built which are not financially accessible to local people. It adds insult to injury for local people losing green belt land when their children or grandchildren cannot afford to live in the houses that are being built.
It’s clear that our country has a significant housing problem. For millions of people the prospect of buying their own home has become a pipe-dream. Over 1.2 million people are languishing on social housing waiting lists. Almost 2.5 million renters are either behind on their rent or struggling to make their monthly payments.
The housing market is not fulfilling what should be its primary purpose, which is providing a safe, secure and affordable place for everyone to live.
It will require bold solutions to address this problem. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves into thinking the problem can be solved simply by building more houses on our green spaces. Policymakers must ask themselves, what sort of houses, which ownership models, at what affordability and at what cost to the environment?
We do need more houses, but we need high quality houses in areas with infrastructure to provide for those who live there and we need a mixed ownership model including considerable numbers of new social housing, as well as owner occupancy. The demand for new housing must be balanced against the necessity of protecting our environment.
Importantly, new housing should only be constructed with the consent of local communities. The final decision over house-building – especially proposals to build on green belt land – should be taken by local authorities.
Our green spaces are worth fighting for. Environmental damage has destructive consequences and is very difficult to undo. I will continue to push-back against attempts to pour concrete and tarmac all over our green and pleasant land.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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