Planning Minister tells BMF ‘more homes in the countryside’

Published:  10 April, 2013

Voters in England must accept the building of homes on undeveloped land for the sake of younger generations, Planning Minister Nick Boles MP has told the Builders’ Merchants Federation (BMF).

BMF was part of an invited audience to hear the Communities and Local Government Minister speak at the prestigious Policy Exchange in central London.

Boles said that the prospect of home ownership was slipping away for many young hopefuls. He blamed today’s housing crisis on the failure of previous governments to release enough land for development, and also on inflationary house prices caused by constrained levels of homebuilding.

There is plenty of undeveloped land to spare in England for more affordable housing, according to the Parliamentary Secretary. Reserves of available brownfield sites were running out, he added, claiming a figure of 76 percent of all homes built in 2010 were on previously developed land.

Since his appointment as Planning Minister in September 2012, Boles has not been afraid to confront various interested parties who oppose further homebuilding in rural or coastal districts. This now has added poignancy as he represents Mrs Thatcher’s former constituency of Grantham, the market town in rural Lincolnshire.

Boles used the occasion to announce that communities that welcome development in their area will receive up to 15 percent of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) raised so that local residents can put this money to community use. To encourage active take-up, Boles said this percentage would rise to 25 percent for communities that have adopted a Neighbourhood Plan. This will allow such communities to determine what should be built and how it should look.

When responding to the National Policy Planning Framework consultation 18 months ago, the BMF drew specific attention to the plight of those looking for somewhere to live in the countryside. Figures produced at that time by Hometrack showed only 12 percent of all homes being built were in rural areas, and it cost buyers 42 percent more to get on the housing ladder than it does in urban areas.

In making its case, the BMF pointed out how communities are caught in a classic two-way squeeze:

  • the flight of young people who cannot afford to live locally
  • an influx of older people from elsewhere with second homes, or who want to escape the ‘rat race’ and relocate permanently (especially in South-West England).

BMF policy manager Brett Amphlett was in the audience. He commented: “The lack of sensible homebuilding contributes to the protracted decline of villages as they struggle to cope with declining rural populations. The exodus of people who cannot afford village life leads to falling school and electoral rolls – and the closure of schools, shops, pubs and post offices.

“It was intriguing to hear a Conservative Minister using social justice as an argument in the housing debate. He was keen to establish moral grounds for building new homes on undeveloped land. His vocabulary marks a significant hardening in the stance of his government towards ‘NIMBYs’. And it reveals the exasperation of ministers that reforming planning has not accelerated homebuilding.”

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