When it comes to house building, it’s time we ditched the green agenda

Small scale developments are restricted by bad rules, argues Bob Britnell

Years ago now, under a previous government, the green lobby seized control of large chunks of the public agenda.

Nowhere did this happen more than in the world of town planning, my world, where I have spent the last 45 years, mostly in local government but now seeing things from the other side of the fence.

The mantra introduced by the greens with a very good PR campaign was that cars are bad, nasty horrible polluting things that were ruining the planet.

Therefore we should be building car-free developments, because with nowhere to park people would forego car ownership. What’s more, we certainly shouldn’t build “out of town” as that would force people to own and use cars.

As ever what we witnessed was the urbanites who drive the green agenda trying to apply big city solutions across the shire counties.

These things might work in central or even outer London where there is easy access to the tube and buses, but they were never going to work outside major metropolitan areas and of course they haven’t.

As ever the inevitable law of unintended consequences has kicked in. It could have been foreseen but those who foresaw it were powerless against the anti-capitalist green groupthink.

For a time Canterbury was seized with this madness, approving housing without adequate car parking but fortunately in some regards it has moved on.

We are however left with a regulatory regime in Canterbury and across Kent the effect of which has been to encourage major developments and severely restrict the activities of small developers and builders.

We now live in world in which large volume housebuilders can get planning permissions for tens or hundreds of new houses on the edge of town and villages, swamping the locals and potentially changing the nature of the local community while a small builder cannot get permission for one or two houses outside the defined “urban areas”.

Of course with a limited number of major housebuilders, they cannot quickly build out all the permissions they do get. 

And in any case, why would they flood the market with housing and force the price down?

Communities, villages, small towns, historically grew organically, a few houses at a time with new building and newcomers being absorbed steadily into the community.

Now we say “oh no” that site is outside the urban boundary or that settlement is identified as one that is not allowed to grow, after all we cannot allow building in the countryside, people would have to use their cars, those nasty, horrible, polluting, planet-destroying vehicles!

And so we miss a trick. If we were to say yes to filling the gaps, yes to limited expansion, perhaps one or two new houses every few years, but no to new housing estates grafted on to their edges, I firmly believe there would be less nimby resistance to new building.

Because these small sites would not appeal to volume house builders they would appeal to the small builders and developers, people who would actually get on and build and not sit on their landbanks.

Of course we’d have to ditch the green agenda but its time we recognised the deadening role that the law of unintended consequences is having, we’re missing out on thousands of new homes and an opportunity to free up the market.

Perhaps if there were more new homes being built we might see more movement and less people having to extend to get what they want.


  1. I’m sorry to say but that’s a rather narrow view in parts. As Buckminster Fuller pointed out in a quote and as Greta Thunberg recently also pointed out at COP24, a system which is not working requires change . We could be working together creating consensus instead of wasting energy being defensive or even for example making party politics and opposition more important than dealing with the issues which are leading to the more and more rapid demise of life on this planet Holistic approaches work better . There is permaculture design which has proven ti wirk and also been recognized by the UN. There is technology and know how as well as the skills (a lot of those with them undervalued and unpaid though) in Canterbury to create homes without it being damaging to the planet which gives us breath and these abilities in the first place. There are too many cars in Canterbury. More of a focus on improving public transport and creating more green public transport. Lyn Sloman did some great work in her Sustainable blueprint for transport in Canterbury which seems to have been largely ignored.

  2. Sorry about typos! Battery was going flat. Should have read ‘to work ‘ and also the bit about public transport should have had ‘need implementating’.

    Also why are so many trees in the city being cut down when more are needed to get through these challenges to existence?


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