Review published on October 6, 2017.
Over 1.5 million hectares of green belt land exist in the UK. It was conceived way back in Victorian times as a way of ensuring that the people living in towns still had some contact with the countryside. The Green Belt around London was first proposed in 1935 and by 1947 local authorities were including green belt proposals in their development plans. There are lots of benefits of having these green areas surrounding towns; it prevents towns from merging together, discourages urban sprawl and encourages people to reuse land more efficiently. When I think of the green belt, I have this impression of a wide band of fields and woods surrounding a town or city. However, the reality is much messier than that and it is a resource that is under threat from housing pressures and developers, so much so that we have lost over 30,000 hectares since the millennium.
Grindrod grew up in New Addington, at the point where urban Croydon fizzles out and the fields and coppices begin. The youngest of three boys, his parents John and Marj had moved out from a flat in Battersea to this new development in Surrey at the very end of the Sixties. For reasons that become apparent later on, John was a little bit of a loner and suffered from endless teasing; the woodlands opposite his house became a bolthole where he could indulge his imagination when the real world became too much for him. But it became more that, it was a place that came to define him as a person and set the path for his life and career as he became a modern-day Janus man who looked towards the urban and rural landscapes for inspiration.
As well as Grindrod’s insightful personal stories of his own life growing up in 1970s suburbia and a fitting eulogy to his mother and father, this is a warts and all history of the green belt and its place in the social history of the UK. It bought back my own memories of growing up; we lived in an estate right next to a woodland that was planted by Thomas Waterer and where I spent many happy hours as a child. He champions the good points behind the green belt and the benefits it can provide to society and he hits the nail on the head when it comes to the disjointed housing policy we have had in the UK since the 1980s. Grindrod is not afraid to challenge the current thinking too arguing that we need a big rethink on national policy with the current housing crisis, especially when you consider the area of land designated green belt (and golf courses are included) in the UK, especially when compared to actual land that is built on. It won’t be an easy debate, but it is one we need to have. Really enjoyable book, and as I haven’t read Concretopia yet, but it is being moved up the list.
Paul Cheney 4/3
Outskirts: Living Life on the Edge of the Green Belt by John Grindrod
Sceptre 9781473625020 hbk Jun 2017
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