Robert Jenrick: We need to build on green fields

More homes will have to be built on greenfield land if the government is to hit its target of building one million homes before the next general election, the housing secretary has admitted.

Tim Shipman, Political Editor

In a private call last week with MPs and donors, Robert Jenrick also suggested that there might need to be building on the protected green belt as well.

Jenrick made the comments in a video call with members of the Conservative Friends of India.

He stressed that the government wanted to “build on brownfield sites first”, but added: “We also know that we will have to build on some greenfield sites as well if we want to meet our overall housing targets, which are very significant.”

It was a “Conservative mission” to help “young people and those on low incomes back onto the housing ladder”, he said.

Where possible the government did not build on the green belt or protected places, Jenrick said.

But he added: “Where we do build on green fields, we are making sure that we are enhancing the natural environment with biodiversity net gain, which we are legislating for in the environment bill.”

Tom Fyans, the deputy chief executive of the CPRE, the countryside charity, seized on the comments and pointed out that the number of homes being built on the green belt was already rising.

The charity’s recent annual report, State of the Green Belt 2021, reveals that 257,944 homes are proposed for land removed from the green belt, nearly five times as many as in 2013.

Fyans said: “We support the brownfield-first approach. The huge increases in the pressure to release green-belt land for housing have been driven by the government forcing the hand of local authorities to meet unrealistic housing targets.”

In his talk Jenrick also said he wanted to “use the opportunity of Covid to convert more offices” in high streets “to bring more life into town and city centres”.

On Wednesday, Jenrick will unveil new planning rules that will make it easier to convert empty and derelict commercial properties into residential properties. The rules will also enable schools, colleges, universities and hospitals to add extensions without going through lengthy planning processes.

The housing department said: “We are prioritising building on brownfield land and revitalising town and city centres. Where there is home building in more rural areas, it needs to be sensitive and proportionate, and protect the local environment.”