Concreting Over the Countryside – Myth or Reality?

Housing has become one of the greatest contemporary challenges that the UK faces domestically, with demand for housing ever rising while high prices, particularly in urban centres, take up a sizeable chunk of people’s income. While shared ownership schemes have been one solution to the housing shortage by making homes more affordable, ultimately, this need will have to be met by the construction of new houses.

Seeking out areas that can be earmarked for development projects has been met with a strong backlash from those who fear that the countryside, something quintessentially English, will slowly fade away as it gets concreted over as a consequence of ‘urban sprawl’.

Champions of this view have included the Council for the Protection of Rural England, which has warned that the UK cold lose the majority of its traditional countryside within the space of one generation as a result of construction aimed at alleviating housing pressures. This group is concerned that the UK will lose this defining feature at the hand of greedy developers, who do little to respect the character and history of the rural villages when considering where and how they build, all the while decimating ancient woodlands, and threatening rare animal and plant life.

On the other side of the spectrum are those concerned with the difficulty faced by a young generation finding it nearly impossible to get onto the housing ladder, particularly in times when the economy has been under pressure, and when housing prices have been edging more and more people out of the market.

In reality, people have little need to fear a concrete monster eating up English farmland. According to the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, the vast majority of the UK has in fact not been developed, with only 10% being classified as urban (and this includes roads and villages in rural areas). Of this portion, more than half are green spaces in the form of parks, fields and allotments, while a fifth of urban areas are domestic gardens. As illustrated in the charts below, this means that as little as 2.2% of the UK is actually concreted over.

These statistics instead suggest that the UK can afford to select strategically located land to develop for housing and the services needed for those homes, without threatening the countryside tradition and character that Britons so love.

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For further details download the UK National Eco Assessment report.