London Mayor candidate and leader of the Reclaim Party Laurence Fox has explained his plans to give permission to housing developers to build on London’s Green Belt in a radical break from current guidance.
Under current government guidance, councils should only permit development on the Green Belt, a circle of preserved land outside metropolitan London, “in very special circumstances”.
But Fox argued “we are doing stuff to combat climate change already” and, if elected, plans to undo protections on Green Belt land to allow developers to build more houses.
“We have a house building crisis that needs to be solved and we have to look at some point at the elephant in the room which is the Green Belt,” he told South West Londoner.
“There’s a lot of very un-beautiful Green Belt. Obviously, you must protect beauty spots, but there is also some scrubland.
“So, there will be a full audit of appropriate places to build both within London itself and looking at some of the Green Belt.
“Only 2% is built on, including gardens. With houses on 5% of the green belt, you’ve solved the problem.”
Fox also plans to scrap the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods introduced by incumbent mayor Sadiq Khan, which, according to Transport for London, were introduced to reduce road danger, encourage physical activity and improve air quality.
“Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are an absolute disaster,” he said. “They’re forcing traffic out on the street and more pollution and they need to go.
“It’s not up to the government or local authorities to tell people what is and is not an essential journey; it’s up to the individual to do that.”
Fox has no concrete plans to reduce air pollution as London Mayor, and believes climate change “is not as bad as everyone says it is,” citing journalist Michael Shellenberger and political scientist Bjorn Lomborg as his influences on climate outlook.
“I would say people’s lives today matter more than some projection in x number of years, of which climate models are very inaccurate,” he added.
“The environment is a global responsibility, is it not? We have to come together. The Paris Climate Accord says China doesn’t have to do anything with its own emissions until 2030, when the UK is planning on being carbon neutral, at the cost of something like £50bn a year.
“We have just come through one of the worst recessions in 300 years. What we need to do is get people back to work; that’s the most important thing.
“It’s important to look after the environment but it’s worth considering we’re in a very difficult position.
“I’m not a climate change denier, but is it as bad as everyone says it is? No. Are we doing stuff to combat it already? Yes.”
Richard Knox-Johnston, chair of environmental protection group London Green Belt Council, believes Fox’s plan to encroach on the Green Belt to be “unsustainable”, and advocated for housing development to be focused on brownfield lands within the city.
“A lot of the problems with the land in the Green Belt are because it’s been deliberately allowed to become poor when it’s owned by developers who are trying desperately to get planning permission to build on it,” he said.
“The great advantage of brownfield land is it already has the infrastructure around it; you don’t have to build and infrastructure as well as the homes.
“Houses built on the Green Belt are also very car-dependent and aren’t very sustainable from the point of view of public transport.
“With climate change, the Green Belt is becoming even more valuable. It provides opportunities to hold back flooding in London. It provides coolness when there’s overheating in London. It provides carbon sequestration in the trees and hedges.
“It has been particularly important during Covid when people suffering from mental illnesses particularly have been able to get out into the countryside and enjoy themselves.
“The Green Belt isn’t just there because it’s beautiful, it’s there to stop urban sprawl and to encourage regeneration in the city of London.”
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Featured image credit: BBC Question Time, 16/01/2020
Further image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Hellerick, (Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0))