A house under construction. More of this, please. Photograph: Getty Images
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It's time to work out which green belt land we should build on

It's not all the North Downs, you know.

Let's get one thing straight: Britain is going to build on its green belts.

Over the next 15 years, government projections suggest, London and the surrounding counties need to build around 1.8 million extra houses. Brownfield sites could hold perhaps 600,000 of them. And that, incidentally, is if we include flood plains, contaminated land, bits of back garden, the lot.

So – let's just accept that the green belt is up for grabs and ask: which bits of it?

Barney Stringer, a director of regeneration specialist Quod, has decided to help us answer that question. He’s painstakingly mapped every site in London's Metropolitan Green belt that lies within a 10 minute walk of an existing station. He then excluded all areas designated as areas of outstanding natural beauty, ancient woodland, nature reserves, and so on.

What was left, he wrote on his blog this morning, was "nearly 20,000 hectares of accessible green belt in and around London". Around 2,850 of them are within Greater London. Here’s a map.

Now, Stringer himself is at pains to stress that not all of these sites should be developed: the land he’s identified includes a number of valuable local parks, not to mention Epsom Downs race course.

But it also includes golf courses, farmland, and ugly blank spaces that don't really serve any purpose at all. Look at the areas surrounding the Central Line loop, to the north east of London: there is no reason not to build there, except for the fact that we never have. "People struggling to afford adequate housing," Stringer writes, "might quite reasonably feel a sense of moral outrage at the sight of tubes and trains busy serving fields and golf courses".

Surrey, incidentally, has more land covered by golf courses than it does by housing.

Building next to stations will only get you so far, of course. Let's assume, to pluck a figure out of the air, that just a third of the land identified above is suitable for housing. At average outer London population densities of 3,900 people per square kilometre, it could provide homes for another 260,000 people.

That's a lot – but it's nowhere near enough. What’s more, just because an area has a tube station, that doesn't mean it has enough road capacity or schools. If we're really going to fix this mess, we also need to build on brownfield land, and employ 'intensification' strategies (that is, packing more people into our existing urban areas).

But, as Stringer asks in his blog:

Should accessible land (expensively served by subsidised public transport) be so carefully protected from providing people with much-needed homes? This isn’t a question that can be solved in the abstract... The truth is some land should be protected, some shouldn’t, and we ought to ask ourselves: are the boundaries we’ve drawn (often many decades ago), still exactly correct in every case?

It’s difficult to see how the answer to that question can be anything but ‘no’. Not all green belt land looks like the North Downs.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.

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I believe only Yvette Cooper has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy Corbyn

All the recent polling suggests Andy Burnham is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy Corbyn, says Diana Johnson MP.

Tom Blenkinsop MP on the New Statesman website today says he is giving his second preference to Andy Burnham as he thinks that Andy has the best chance of beating Jeremy.

This is on the basis that if Yvette goes out first all her second preferences will swing behind Andy, whereas if Andy goes out first then his second preferences, due to the broad alliance he has created behind his campaign, will all or largely switch to the other male candidate, Jeremy.

Let's take a deep breath and try and think through what will be the effect of preferential voting in the Labour leadership.

First of all, it is very difficult to know how second preferences will switch. From my telephone canvassing there is some rather interesting voting going on, but I don't accept that Tom’s analysis is correct. I have certainly picked up growing support for Yvette in recent weeks.

In fact you can argue the reverse of Tom’s analysis is true – Andy has moved further away from the centre and, as a result, his pitch to those like Tom who are supporting Liz first is now narrower. As a result, Yvette is more likely to pick up those second preferences.

Stats from the Yvette For Labour team show Yvette picking up the majority of second preferences from all candidates – from the Progress wing supporting Liz to the softer left fans of Jeremy – and Andy's supporters too. Their figures show many undecideds opting for Yvette as their first preference, as well as others choosing to switch their first preference to Yvette from one of the other candidates. It's for this reason I still believe only Yvette has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy and then to go on to win in 2020.

It's interesting that Andy has not been willing to make it clear that second preferences should go to Yvette or Liz. Yvette has been very clear that she would encourage second preferences to be for Andy or Liz.

Having watched Andy on Sky's Murnaghan show this morning, he categorically states that Labour will not get beyond first base with the electorate at a general election if we are not economically credible and that fundamentally Jeremy's economic plans do not add up. So, I am unsure why Andy is so unwilling to be clear on second preferences.

All the recent polling suggests Andy is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy. He trails fourth in London – where a huge proportion of our electorate is based.

So I would urge Tom to reflect more widely on who is best placed to provide the strongest opposition to the Tories, appeal to the widest group of voters and reach out to the communities we need to win back. I believe that this has to be Yvette.

The Newsnight focus group a few days ago showed that Yvette is best placed to win back those former Labour voters we will need in 2020.

Labour will pay a massive price if we ignore this.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.