If you remember two things after reading this article, we hope they are these. Firstly, there’s no conflict between solving the housing crisis and protecting rural areas – we can and must do both. Secondly, developers can make more profit by building expensive homes than by building affordable ones – and that is the problem at the heart of the crisis.
In Sheffield, as in many other towns and cities, there is no shortage of brownfield land. Some of it is derelict, much more is simply under-used: wasted under acres of surface car-parking around low density retail parks. Re-using this land for new neighbourhoods would not only avoid the city sprawling out into the countryside, but would also breathe new life into run-down areas. Great progress is already being made on this around Kelham Island, but vast areas of the Don Valley from Deepcar all the way to Darnall could benefit from regeneration. The vital missing ingredient to make that happen is public investment: to buy and decontaminate land, reduce flood risk, put in public transport and green spaces, and build homes that people need. As long as the government fails to provide for that investment, we don’t accept that they are genuinely committed to solving the housing crisis.
The only way to solve the housing crisis is to build affordable homes, mainly for social rent. Research by Shelter, the homelessness charity, confirms this. Giving planning permissions to private housebuilders on greenfield sites doesn’t fix the problem, because there’s a natural incentive for them to build large, expensive homes and minimise their contribution to affordability. We’ve seen this happen in many places across Sheffield, and every time a site is developed without building affordable homes, the long-term problem just gets worse.
Most rural land in Sheffield is in the Green Belt, which isn’t just an empty space outside the city, but a vital resource of green spaces bringing the countryside into the city, especially along the river valleys from the Peak District. This has huge benefits for recreation, health, tourism, nature and local food production, and these are all essential for the economy too. CPRE’s Blueprint for Sheffield’s Green Belt sets out our vision for the future: build the right homes in the right places, regenerate urban areas, and enhance our beautiful countryside. It can all be done.
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