Policy Exchange Think Tank Urges Green Belt Changes

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Developers should be free to build across swathes of the green belt if less than half of local people lodge an objection, a think-tank says.

Policy Exchange said the Government's housing policy failed to do enough to provide homes where people wanted to live - in cities and the suburbs.

It called for firms to be offered incentives to create a string of new "garden cities" next to existing urban areas, such as Cambridge and Preston. And it said ministers should confront critics of their own plans to relax planning laws by going even further in allowing fields to be converted into suburbs.

The right-leaning body accused the National Trust and other campaigners of peddling a "myth" that the green belt was made up of meadows and nature reserves.

Under proposals included in a new report, town halls would be stripped of the power to decide on whether or not massive new housing projects went ahead, even on green belt land.

Instead, councils would be paid by developers to canvass opinion among residents in the area affected - with construction automatically given the green light if fewer than 50% objected. A levy would pay to replace lost green belt with parks and open spaces.

The creation of "garden cities" linked to existing areas would foster a Silicon Valley-style "brain belt" in the UK, the report said. They would need approval in a local referendum.

Despite being the main engines of growth, the proportion of people living in metropolitan areas in the UK had slumped while it raced ahead in Asia and the US.

A government spokesman said: "One of the key measures set out in our Housing Strategy ... was more support to local areas that want to deliver new, larger-scale developments that meet the needs of their growing communities.

"We will be inviting councils and communities to identify opportunities for locally planned large scale development, which will take advantage of streamlined planning processes, giving communities a stronger say and developers greater certainty."