And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen! — William Blake, ~ 1808
How would one describe a market in which the value of the same commodity varied by more than 100 to one? “Hugely distorted” is the answer. Yet that is precisely the situation for land near England’s most prosperous urban centres…
…The core question…is what is to be done with the green belts around our cities. Supporters of the policy of “urban containment” argue that this is a small island whose countryside risks being concreted over.
In fact, the land in green belts alone is one and a half times greater than in all cities and towns together. Moreover, the towns are far “greener” than green belts. Gardens cover nearly half of the 10% of England that is urbanised, while the dominant use of land in green belts is intensive arable farming, which is mostly hideous and offers less biodiversity than urban parks and gardens. Nor do green belts offer much if any amenity to the bulk of the population that lives in the great cities. Their value goes to the small number of people who own houses inside them.
So what is to be done? The price mechanism should rule…We do need to stop constraining the growth of the places where people really want to live. It is untrue that the green belts are areas of outstanding amenity. They are rather sources of increasing misery, as an ever-larger population is crammed into an artificially limited space.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the op-ed attracted only 14 comments, of which few seemed concerned about the green belt per se. I noticed this one:
Why not flatten Martin Wolf’s house — which I’m assuming is in London — and replace it with a high rise block?
When they’ve replaced all the houses and gardens in London with high rise blocks, I’ll be very willing to cede some of the green belt.
(Martin Wolf is the author of the op-end).
I am not familiar with the green belt in the UK, of course. But we also have one in greater Vancouver. Since I no longer live there I do not know if similar proposals are afoot there too (the house prices in Vancouver are extremely high).