It has been known for some years that the role the green belt plays in constraining the planning system needs serious attention. It is equally well acknowledged that it is "courageous" for politicians to suggest that they are prepared to even think about it.
The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry have a long history of lobbying regarding the planning system - and not just for their members in the development industry. Matters such as housing for workers and transport for commuting, connections and supply chains are of real interest to their members, whatever line of business they are in. These aspects come together with concerns for the capital's emergency infrastructure in their new report "Brown for Blue".
The report builds on earlier work where the LCCI discovered that 54% of the Capital's blue light workers live outside London. But it goes further than just promoting the key worker housing concept that was much touted a decade ago. For this report, mapping company FIND has identified areas of land in the current green belt which meet none of the green belt purposes and are, to put it plainly, simply not "green". These are being suggested as possible sites for a special exemption for housing specifically for blue light workers, the first response members of the fire, police and paramedic services. Conscious of the totemic status of the green belt, the LCCI have coined the phrase "brownspace" for these identified areas.
There will be a real fear that this is a thin-end-of-the-wedge or a Trojan horse for wider intrusion into the green belt. There may well continue to be public opposition, and it may also lead to questions as to why this space shouldn't be used for teachers, nurses or bus drivers too? However, it is also possible to see real public support, especially in the current climate where there is heightened consciousness around extreme emergency events in the shadow of Grenfell Tower and terror attacks. There are also rumblings of a division in public mood with sections of society wondering who the green belt benefits and how much that is really worth when many can't find a home.
The site identification is a first sieve and it may well be that only a proportion of this land is really suitable for development for this purpose. There are a lot of details to be worked out as to how this would work and give confidence that it was secure. However the publication of the draft London Plan is the perfect time for these issues to be raised. The report is very careful to keep to its narrow remit. If a politician was ever going to risk touching the green third rail of planning politics, this focus on "brownspace" may be the best glove to wear when doing so.
The report can be found here.