Build commuter villages near train stations in green belt to solve housing crisis, Government told

Charles Hymas
View of Oxford from the Oxford Green Belt Way - David Burges

A thousand "commuter villages" providing 2.1 million new homes should be built in the green belt near train stations to help solve Britain's housing crisis, says a leading Government adviser and academic.

LSE professor Paul Cheshire, who has been a Government adviser for over a decade, said building the villages within 10 minutes walk of the 1,035 under-developed rail stations would offer easy and quick commutes to urban jobs while producing as many new houses as have been built in the last 15 years.

It would take commuters just 45 minutes to get to cities where they worked, providing them with environmentally "greener" and shorter journeys than many now face.

The 47,000 hectares of land needed would amount to just 1.8 per cent of the existing green belt in England but would increase the number of homes in Britain by almost 10 per cent.

Professor Cheshire's report, for the think tank Centre for Cities, also calls for the current restrictions on affordable housing and community infrastructure levies to be replaced by a 20 per cent charge on developers when they sold the houses.

This would raise around £100 billion for supporting infrastructure and social housing and would not increase the price of homes as it would be paid for ultimately out of land prices.

Professor Cheshire with UCL researcher Boyana Buyuklieva designed an algorithm to identify the land for development within 800 metres of 1,035 existing commuter stations around London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol.

Around 63 per cent of it is in the green belt but Professor Cheshire, who has also advised the World Bank, UN and OECD, said much of it was under-used or agricultural land and had been designated “simply to have empty spaces between cities and prevent development. “The land does not need to be ‘green,’” he said.

He cited Tottenham Hale station in London where a scheme for affordable housing was scuppered because a slice of the low quality land used for a car wash jutted into the green belt.

He said: “Our housing crisis is corroding social trust and causing serious inequality as well as economic inefficiencies as people cannot find affordable homes in places they want to live. It is time to use land for its best social purpose: not to remain fenced in by inflexible boundaries imposed in 1955. 

“These proposals align incentives to use our land for genuine public benefit while reducing our carbon footprint as well as funding needed infrastructure and social housing.”

It is understood a similar proposal was included in a draft of Theresa May’s Government’s housing blueprint but was shelved after lobbying by rural campaigners.

Andrew Carter, Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive, said: “Housing provision should follow where people need to live for work. This means building in and around larger cities with lots of jobs. 

“Using existing commuter infrastructure as a base to deliver accessible new homes near our biggest cities could be the simplest way to do this – but it will require political will and compromise on the greenbelt.”