Building on just one per cent of greenbelt land in Epsom and Ewell could provide space for hundreds of new homes and help the borough avoid missing its housing targets, new data has suggested.

Analysis from property development firm LandTech sent to the Surrey and Epsom Comet suggested that the use of just one per cent of greenbelt land in the borough in areas like 'brown' sites could provide space for some 640 houses at a density of 41 dwellings per hectare.

"This rate would be even higher if calculated at the urban 80 dwellings per hectare," LandTech said.

The firm also pointed out that Epsom and Ewell "tops a league table of missed new house building targets, above all local authorities in England, with green belt land".

Indeed, EEBC published an 'Action Plan' this summer designed to address why only 34 per cent of the houses required to be built under government targets were delivered (512 against 1,519 homes required) over the last three years and how they planned to remedy the situation.

The subject of building on greenbelt land is a thorny one in the borough's politics, with some residents opposing moves to do so repeatedly in various campaigns.

Yet like many local authorities, Epsom and Ewell Borough Council (EEBC) are obliged to address their housing targets amid a national shortage of affordable homes commentators have dubbed the Housing Crisis.

Grace Manning-Marsh, planning expert at LandTech, said Epsom and Ewell's example rang true at the national level, where he said misguided perceptions of what greenbelt land is dominates the discourse on whether it could be used to meet local housing targets.

"Our analysis reveals that just a fraction of green belt land, no more than one or two per cent per local authority, could provide more than enough land to meet England’s five-year housing needs, which in many cases are behind target," she said.

"The problem is that , green belt land is widely misunderstood by the public who (understandably) assume it’s predominantly leafy, green, open spaces – but this often isn’t the case. The actual function of the green belt is to stop urban sprawl as cities and towns merge into one another. That’s why the 42 per cent of local authorities that have no green belt land – including places like Cornwall and Suffolk – yet still have plenty of those leafy, green, open spaces."

The Surrey and Epsom Comet approached EEBC for a comment on the LandTech findings.

A spokesperson pointed to the council's current Local Plan, currently under development, which aims to address the housing situation in the borough.

"The Local Plan will guide future development within this area, including where and how many homes can be accommodated, plus future infrastructure, jobs, schools and green places," the spokesperson said. "To ensure this council’s Local Plan development process aligns with a local context, in 2019 councillors agreed six principles to shape the new Local Plan.

"The principles seek to ensure that the development of new homes in the borough recognise the desirability of maintaining an area’s prevailing character and setting. The approach recognises the rich character of the borough and its high quality green spaces and seeks to focus development in existing urban areas particularly around the key town and village centres and stations.

"As part of the council’s work on the Local Plan, analysis of the green belt in the borough has been carried out. This forms part of the ‘evidence’ which will be used to formulate the Local Plan."

The evidence referred to, available here, consisted of studies undertaken by the council between 2017-2019 that examined the suitability of greenbelt land in the borough for "release" and potential use for development going forward.

Manning-Marsh and LandTech suggested that use of such sites could be more appealing to the public if a genuine conversation about what constitutes Green Belt land could be started.

"It’s our belief that appropriate building on the green belt suffers from an image crisis more than a planning problem," she said.