Knight Frank call on the next elected government to 'unlock the grey belt'

Utilising previously developed brownfield sites that currently sit within the green belt – dubbed ‘grey belt’ – could deliver hundreds of thousands of new homes, says Knight Frank.

Related topics:  Property,  housing,  development,  green belt
Property | Reporter
30th January 2024
green belt
"Every site is different and must be considered for residential development on its own merits, however, those sites located on the edge of settlements or close to existing amenities should be prioritised, given their suitability for family housing in high demand"
- Roland Brass - Knight Frank

Global property consultancy Knight Frank has appealed for the UK’s next elected government, to be chosen at the forthcoming General Election, to engage in an “urgent and sensible conversation” around the green belt.

Focusing only on inner town and city centre development will not deliver the volume or type of new homes needed to meet demand, the firm said, and a mature approach to green belt development is essential to boost housing delivery.

Analysis by the property consultancy has identified over 11,000 grey belt sites comprising less than 1% of the green belt. Notably, these sites do not include agricultural or residential uses.

Together these grey belt sites sit on land totalling 13,500 hectares and have a combined built footprint of approximately 10 million square metres.

Knight Frank has calculated that repurposing the built footprint alone would facilitate approximately 100,000 new family homes. The firm says that adopting prudent average density assumptions would increase this number to over 200,000 homes.

Of the 11,205 grey belt sites identified in the analysis, Knight Frank said 41% (4,612 sites) sit within the London green belt area. Merseyside and the Greater Manchester green belt area offered the second highest number of available sites (1,068), followed by green belt areas in Birmingham (1,351 sites), South and West Yorkshire (1,129 sites) and Bristol and Bath (606 sites).

Roland Brass, Partner in the Planning team at Knight Frank said: “Our goal with this research was to approach green belt more objectively and less subjective. There is currently a focus on redeveloping urban brownfield land – but this should be no different for sites that sit within the green belt.

"Every site is different and must be considered for residential development on its own merits, however, those sites located on the edge of settlements or close to existing amenities should be prioritised, given their suitability for family housing in high demand.

“To make effective use of land as promoted in national policy, any future government should reconsider the existing green belt openness and impact tests for previously developed sites. This will help reimagine and improve them to deliver much-required new housing, as well as provide other local and environmental benefits. This approach is a straightforward way to increase housing land supply quickly and has the added benefit of simplifying the planning process and providing more certainty.”

Charles Dugdale, Head of Development Partnerships at Knight Frank added: “The term green belt is often emotive and can conjure images of beautiful rolling countryside; while this is mostly the case, the land we have identified in this study is previously developed, meaning that it is neither completely open nor performing a function as the green lungs of a city.

"These previously developed sites can work harder by contributing housing. Making the most of these brownfield sites will protect most of the green belt and would not undermine its role in controlling urban sprawl.”

“We are calling on the next elected government to engage in a mature conversation about the use of green belt and allow grey belt sites to be allocated for development in new Local Plans to help address local needs and promote sustainable patterns of development.”

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