The role of greenbelt land in London’s growth prompted thoughtful debate at Policy Forum for London’s keynote seminar ‘Priorities for the London Plan – land use, infrastructure and good growth’ in May. Copper’s Ryan West was there and gives us his views.

Professionals from a host of disciplines came together for Policy Forum for London’s seminar to discuss what good growth in London is and whether the London Plan could help to deliver it.

Under the able chairmanship of London Assembly Members Tony Devenish and Nicky Gavron, the tone was upbeat about an existing broad consensus on how best to grow London. But one topic which continues to divide opinion, and did so at the event, was the role of the greenbelt.

Both the Mayor of London and the Government maintain a view that greenbelt controls urban sprawl and preserves greenery and have committed to focusing development on brownfield sites.

Redevelopment of brownfield sites is generally recognised as a vital element in delivering good growth in London, but there is ongoing debate about whether and how greenbelt could be used carefully to support London’s need for more housing.

Colin Wilson, Senior Planning Manager at the Greater London Authority, noted that not all greenbelt land is of the same value in terms of ecology or leisure, and that areas near major roads, for example, could be used to relocate industry further out to make more room for housing.

Roy Thompson, Strategic Director of Place at Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, echoed Wilson’s point of view, although noted it wasn’t a council position, but rather a thought provoker. Thompson argued that, in doing so, the borough could better support London’s housing needs. Specifically, he suggested that development focused around transport nodes, such as potential Crossrail 2 stations, could have the most benefit.

The strongest counter argument came from Alice Roberts, Head of Green Space Campaigns at CPRE London. She claimed that any encroachment on to the greenbelt would be damaging and initiate a constant chipping away. She also highlighted that, even if land is currently regarded as being a bit ugly, it will, naturally, improve and become more biodiverse with time if left alone.

That final point struck a chord. Nature does have a fantastic capability of recovering, but only if it’s left alone. There is surely a strong case to recognise this and think carefully about the valuable asset we have surrounding our capital city when looking to grow.

So, what role does the greenbelt have to play in driving good growth in London? Well, it depends on your definition of good growth. If good growth is finding empty land inside the greenbelt, then you’re probably going to be in luck. The Mayor’s commitment to protection will almost certainly translate into the next London Plan in 2019 – it was a policy he was elected on and isn’t something he can go back on.

Even so, it’s likely that we can expect to see calls for a rethink and challenges on individual sites, particularly where there could be new road and rail links cutting a path through.