The Government should allow building on hundreds of square miles of greenfield areas, and order an urgent review of green belt rules, according to Lord Wolfson, a Conservative peer and a key member of George Osborne’s inner circle.
Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise said that ministers should increase the proportion of Britain which has been developed from 8 per cent to 9 per cent, equating to a further 808 square miles or the equivalent of 30 times the size of the city of Nottingham.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord Wolfson, who is the chief executive of high street retailer Next, said it was a myth that Britain is already over-developed.
The peer said: “There is a lot of justifiable fear about development. People assume that there is very little countryside left which isn’t true.”
Lord Wolfson continued: “When people say we need more land for homes they summon up the Cotswolds and South Downs in their imagination, and imagine it all ruined.
“And no one wants that. But equally there are lots of parts of the countryside where no one walks in – that are just big, open, flat fields of no agricultural merit.”
He said that a “core principle” should be that “beautiful countryside … should be preserved”. But he added that “equally unloved, flat ecologically unimportant land that is not in a flood plain should be considered for housing.
“Often the replacement of pesticide-drenched agro-industrial fields with houses and gardens creates more ecological diversity, less pollution and a nicer environment for human beings to bring up their children.”
The problem at the moment was that “very little new land is being allocated for new homes” which meant “you end up with homes being squeezed into already crowded urban cordons, and developers being encouraged to build in very high densities”.
This created “inappropriately large developments in urban cordons that can’t take that development and homes that are not nice to look at and then people saying ‘what we need is more restrictions’. When actually what we need is more land”.
Lord Wolfson donated £238,000 to the Tories from 2006 to 2009 and advised the party on economic policy before the last general election. He was made a peer under David Cameron’s Government in July 2010.
Since 2010 he has not had a formal role with the Conservatives, although he is seen as one of Mr Osborne’s inner circle because he is married to Eleanor Shawcross, Mr Osborne’s economic adviser in 11 Downing Street.
He said: “I am not a political animal. I think that all political parties should be thinking how we address the issue of the housing shortage in this country.
“Not just because the current rationing of land causes inequality and is a drain on our economy, but also because it represents an enormous opportunity to improve our economy. Another 300,000 homes I estimate would add three per cent to GDP.”
He said all three parties should commit to re-examining the definition of the green belt land – first established in the post-war years to control urban sprawl around towns and cities – and whether industrial zoning areas of towns was impeding development.
The parties should also examine whether the National Planning Policy Framework – the new planning rulebook which was introduced in March 2012 to encourage more building – could be reviewed.
He said: “I am not critical of the Government for the NPPF… but I still think there is too much in our planning system that there clearly is a roadblock and to break that roadblock is going to require a lot of thought.”
Lord Wolfson said that people were right to be concerned by inconsiderate development because often their life savings were tied up in their properties. He urged people who were hit by unpopular new homes to receive compensation.
He said: “Proper protection for beautiful countryside and proper compensation for people who are adversely affected would go a long way towards addressing people’s fears.”