View from Westminster: Housing Needs

Last week The Prime Minister called in Britain’s biggest house builders to a summit at No 10 to take personal charge of fixing the broken housing market. After Brexit, this is probably one of the most urgent items in the political in-tray.  The trouble with our housing market is that some people have done very well out of it but for many – our children and grandchildren among them – getting on the housing ladder has become a distant dream. Figures show home ownership is now at a 30 year low for young people. And last year there was a shortfall of more than 109,000 new homes across England.

When discussing solutions three issues are regularly raised; First, there needs to be a proper review of what the green belt is for and what land needs to be protected from development. This policy was rolled out between 1947 and 1955 and is no longer fit for purpose. Ideas being mooted include green belt swaps, which would allow councils to remove protections on one part of the belt near housing settlements in return for creating protected land elsewhere. Another idea is to allow local authorities to buy land at the value of existing use, rather than inflated prices that include planning permissions. Second, we need to increase the supply of housing through a huge council house-building programme, perhaps by boosting funding for housing associations. Last, we must provide a long term-view, which stops this constant changing of direction. Planning policy needs to be settled so we all know the direction we are travelling in.

How about rural areas like ours? The Campaign to Protect Rural England believes the National Planning Policy Framework conflates the terms, ‘housing need’ and ‘housing demand’ and thinks building new homes to meet demand only benefits the developers rather than the local population.  They want local councils to be able to target what local needs are, so they can maintain the social fabric, whilst also ensuring precious countryside is not lost to unnecessary demand led-development. This keeps the control much more local and accountable.