Landscape Institute Statement on Housing White Paper


    Merrick Denton-Thompson, President of the Landscape Institute said: 

    “Housing quantity cannot be divorced from housing quality and I fully support the Government’s wish to ensure that new homes are built to a good standard. The white paper today pledges to give communities a stronger voice in the design of new housing and that should be welcomed. Existing residents need to believe that new housing will enhance, not diminish, their quality of life and the value of their homes. Locally led sympathetic place making that positively contributes to the existing village or town, will properly address the whole landscape of the development and reflect the local character.

    “People wish to live in safe neighbourhoods that are verdant, distinct and characterful places that provide public community spaces for socialising, play and healthy living. To be able to enjoy the outdoors in their own gardens and neighbourhoods. The Government talks of new funding to boost the capacity and capability of local authorities to help communities’ secure better design in their areas but local authorities need have the necessary skills to ensure good design.

    “Green Belt is a controversial issue and I welcome the improved clarity that proposals for amending NPPF Green Belt policies offer, in particular the suggestion that where land is removed from the Green Belt, the impacts should be offset by compensatory improvements to the environmental quality or accessibility of remaining Green Belt land.

    “However, I am concerned about the emphasis on re-use of brownfield land for high density housing.  This presumption in favour of housing first will inevitably lead to the loss of potential informal amenity spaces, play and recreation areas. Similarly, higher housing densities around commuter hubs must go hand in hand with access to high quality green space. That way, communities can feel the benefits of a multi-functional green infrastructure that is safer, stimulates community cohesion through sociable and play opportunities. It also helps to reduce flood risks, supports healthier living and mitigate climate change.

    “More widely, I can wholeheartedly support further protection of our ancient woodlands but the devolution of planning decisions from Natural England to be shared with local authorities on developments affecting Great Crested Newts could be problematic. As a result of staffing cuts, I am not convinced there is sufficient landscape and ecology knowledge within local authorities to ensure they have the necessary skills to meet their responsibilities as a Competent Authority.

    “Unfortunately much of the UK has poorly-designed new housing and I believe that a landscape led approach is critical in increasing the supply of the high quality ‘liveable’ housing and the communities we need for the 21st century.”


    1. So it is now 24 hours since the Government launched its White Paper on housing. The much anticipated dilution of Green Belt safeguards has not happened, or at least that would appear to be the case when you read the headlines. However, if you delve into the detail it would appear that the Government are looking to open the door to the release of Green Belt, Councils are expected to deliver housing and for those with nothing other than Green Belt within their boundaries this is the only possible outcome. Whether as landscape architects we agree or disagree with this outcome is not the point, this is the biggest change to the natural landscape that this country has faced in decades. As a profession this is the one thing we should be discussing and on which we should have a voice. Go to the Architects Journal today and you will see an array of views on the implications of the White Paper, including on Green Belt release, which needless to say the Architects expressing a view support. Shouldn’t we have an equally strong voice on this issue?

    2. The view from my train to Birmingham revealed that much of the urban forest (a principle component of urban green infrastructure) comes from natural regeneration as a result of the widespread neglect of land. Many such areas would likely be ‘brownfield land’. If we are to build on these sites then we would lose a significant proportion of our urban forest, and all the ecosystem services they provide.

      Our planning system has proved over the years that it normally delivers piecemeal development with cramming and infilling, and with exceptions it lacks adequate forward looking green infrastructure planning. The result is a sea of barren hard surfaces where the total value of the development is little more than the sum of the individual built parts, the effect of which is that in British towns and cities is usually very difficult to live closely amongst nature.

    3. Yes we should. According to Ian Mulheirn, director of consulting at Oxford Economics and former economic adviser at the treasury, we have 1.4 million surplus (not lived in) homes in this country (try iPlayer, Today Programme, 3rd Feb 7.30 am). My understanding is that the main driver of demand for housing is all-time low interest rates and therefore more affordable mortgages, so it seems unwise to build homes on green belt land when interest rates can only go one way. And lets not kid ourselves that new homes in the green belt would be affordable housing. We should not be taking these irreversibly destructive steps because of lobbying by house builders – our countryside is worth more than that.


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