But the latest onslaught seems likely to see the belt actually being let out a few notches.
The greatest pressure is from housing developers. Brownfield development seems regrettably under-supported by government initiatives, and, give or take a few flood plains, rural greenfield new build is so much easier than complicated urban infill. It is no wonder the volume builders are concentrating all their energy into releasing what they see as a government stranglehold on development.
Public expectation is that any building on green-belt land is likely to be ugly. It is not hard to see why this might be. The experience of the past 30 years suggests that rural and suburban development is determined by the turning circles of dustbin lorries, and that the layout or environmental impact of a new community of 100 houses with a life of 100 years is given less consideration than a campsite.
The reason for this is that rural housebuilders target all their energies on the house. There are pictures of it in the papers, visualisations of the downstairs executive cloakroom on the net, close-ups of the built-in microwave unit on the hoardings – all before a sod has been turned. Nowhere is there any emphasis on the design or impact of the whole layout. Or how the target house relates to the 60 other identical ones crammed in among the hammerheads.
At present, design is the least challenging aspect of development. Developers spend six times as much money on professional fees that enable them to secure land as they do on commissioning the design work to build on it. I am not surprised. As long as a local authority says you cannot build something, however beautifully designed and environmentally marvellous it is, you might as well submit your standard lowest common denominator layout and hire a seriously expensive barrister to deal with the appeal. Or start buying very big drinks for councillors.
The layout of a community of 100 houses with a life of 100 years is given less consideration than a campsite
It's time to alter the paradigm. If private individuals are prepared to spend millions of pounds buying open-plan flats built out of converted flour mills, with shared swimming pools and broadband internet connection on developments in scruffy bits of cities, why is it that every single rural development offers nothing but relentless detatched and identical houses, far removed from the Englishman's Arcadian ideal?
Why are there no magical timber developments carefully threaded through woodland? Why are there no rural developments in undulating bits of land that reflect the typography and the vernacular materials? Why are developments not conceived more as single building entities, such as a country estate, so that the spread of brick and tarmac is restricted and does not impact so much on the surroundings? Because nobody gives a damn.
Developers are enormous corporations wanting to make money. Build the cheapest houses and the least infrastructure. Turn out the same drawings with 10 lines delineating the poky rooms and 5000 words of Building Regulation notes that nobody can argue with. Wind up the company the second the last house is sold. And start hammering away at planning officers somewhere else.
Perhaps it would help if planning applications were far more expensive. Fees for Building Control submissions are five times those for planning yet add no value. If a planner draws a red line around a wheat field on an OS map and writes "residential" in the middle, it is better for the owner than winning the lottery jackpot. Yet the decisions to do this are not taken by people who have any training in design, or know how to recognise it when they see it (except, of course, if it is 100 years old: then they recognise it all right), or how to encourage it. Neither is the stupendous increase in value manifested in the amenity to the locality which it could be by infrastructure and landscaping obligations.
Gus Alexander runs his own architectural practice in Clerkenwell, London.