In a recent BBC documentart ‘Inside Out London: The Great Property Race’ it was reported that Chinese investors have started to buy up parts of the protected Green Belt, predicting that it will, with time be developed, and allow them to make a handsome profit.
History of the Green Belt
Whilst London has long maintained a reputation for development, there has throughout history been several attempts to stop the urban sprawl from destroying the pleasant greenery of surrounding England. In the 16th Century Queen Elizabeth I established a cordon sanitaire, of which David Thomas wrote, “Within this area all new houses were prohibited, except upon sites where, within living memory, there has been a building”.. Four hundred years later, in the early twentieth century, the development of countryside in Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey prompted the passing of Green Belt legislation, a ring of farmland, woodland and parkland surrounding London.
The Green Belt then, is what keeps London’s belly from bursting out its trousers, and resulting in an unseemly display of urban obesity.
The Green Belt has, it seems prevented towns and villages on the periphery of London from being munched up, transformed, integrated, molded and disfigured by developers eager to link them into the beast. Epping Forest District Council for example have praised the Metropolitan Green Belt, of which Epping Forest forms a part, as being a huge help in defending Epping Forest from further development.
However a common feature of all these attempts to constrain the development of London, is that they ended up to some degree or another failing. David Thomas pointed out that Elizabeth I’s cordon sanitaire did not prove to be effective, “The Crown was always short of money and the granting of dispensations provided welcome revenue.”. In 21st Century London it has been argued that the fungal growth of London finds no effective barrier in the Green Belt. Sure London cannot expand outwards into the Green Belt, but existing towns and settlements in and on the outside of the Green Belt are gradually increasing in size, and heading towards the magnetic south. The figures arrived at for the population of Lonodn by the Office for National Statistics includes the people living in the continuous built-up area falling outside the London administrative boundary.”
The Chinese may be on to something then, with time the investors are hoping that the government will allow development of the Green Belt, and then their ships will come sailing in.