Building on the Green Field Land: A Sign of the Times?

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For months now, debate has raged in Harrogate over the proposed construction of up to 3,000 new-build houses in the area.

During this time, two potential sites were discussed at length, with prime greenfield land in Green Hammerton and Flaxby having being targeted by developers. Finally, the local authority appears to have settled on the former as its desired location, creating a scenario which could increase the size of the historic Green Hammerton village ten-fold.

But why have these plans created such controversy, and what do they say about the state of the housing market in the UK?

The Numbers That Tell the Story

The level of supply in the UK housing market has been in decline for years, with the government repeatedly falling short of its annual construction targets. This blog post from Flying Homes suggests that the crisis goes even deeper, with an estimated 200,000 properties lying empty and with no immediate plans for utilisation.

This has promoted action, and in November last year the Tories pledged £3.7 billion to build an additional 140,000 UK homes by 2021 and create a greater equilibrium between supply and demand.

It is hoped that this investment, coupled with the strategic targeting of tax benefits in the buy-to-let-market, will end the housing shortage and restore balance to the property sector.

While this is already beginning to have an impact on supply and price points in the UK, it is also creating issues within local communities. After all, land and space is already at a premium in Britain, causing developers to target previously untouchable greenfield lands in more affluent parts of the country. Not only this, but local authorities such as Harrogate Borough Council are under pressure to offload greenfield lands to developers, as the government looks to ensure that its measures are successful.

Why the Next Few Weeks Will Prove Crucial

This underlying pressure is the main source of controversy among local campaigners, who have begun to lose faith in the planning process after the selection of Green Hammerton. “We will be looking to our new MP to call for an examination in public of the case,” said Chris Chelton, chairman of the Keep Green Hammerton Green initiative. “Only then will we be satisfied that a decision will be made, wherever it is, on sound planning grounds free of any local or political influence.”

This makes sense, particularly when you consider that the size of this affluent village will increase dramatically, with no suggestion that any additional measures will be recommended to account for a huge population increase.

The next few weeks will prove crucial to the future of the project and the actions of residents, however, with officers set to outline their proposals in full and relay the details of the public consultation held at the end of 2016. They have also amended the timetable to allow for a six-week period of further consultation, which could either fuel further protests or pave the way for development works to start.

The Last Word

Given the crisis in the housing market and the government’s public desire to resolve this issue, it appears highly likely that the project will be confirmed once the final period of public consultation is over.

This is a sad portent of the times, of course, particularly as the nation’s greenfield lands are much-loved and a key part of the British landscape. The need to build new and affordable housing is pressing, however, while it continues to override the desire to maintain the UK’s lush green spaces and parklands.

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