Bedfordshire MPs speak out in planning reform debate

12th October 2020

Two local MPs spoke in the debate held in the House of Commons on 11th October 2020.

Richard Fuller, the Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, set out seven key points in his response:

 

“First, whatever the housing targets are, please will he ensure that they are on a manageable scale locally? For the two local authorities that cover my constituency, current targets would mean 60,000 new homes over 15 years. That would be the equivalent of building seven towns the size of the largest town, Biggleswade, in my constituency. That does not seem a reasonable burden.

Point No. 2: will my right hon. Friend please ensure that the burden is shared? No algorithm will fix the country as a whole, but equally, my local authorities have the same housing target as Cambridgeshire, which is three times the size. We are part of the Oxford-Cambridge arc and it would be better to share across the two counties.

Point No. 3: we were elected on a manifesto commitment to infrastructure first. Delivering ahead of new housing developments the GP surgeries, the schools and the roads is a crucial part of making my right hon. Friend’s reforms successful.

Point No. 4: as we have heard many times in today’s debate, delivering houses is essentially a contract of trust between the state, nationally and locally, and the developers who build the houses. If the developer does not fulfil its part of the contract, trust is broken and therefore we need some remedy in the form of penalties for not building planned homes when given approval.

Point No. 5: there are a number of what I call “creepy” developers who are using loopholes in the current local planning system to build housing in areas that really do not want it and where it changes the local character. Can the reforms please make sure that those creepy developers are pushed to one side?

Point No. 6: if we are going to continue with neighbourhood plans—I think it is essential that we do—they really need some teeth and they must matter.

Point No. 7: my right hon. Friend the Minister will have heard today a torrent of voices pushing in one direction, and that shows why change is so hard, but he should not be dissuaded from his central task. The planning system needs reform. He is on to something, and I urge him to work with his colleagues on the Government Benches to get it right.”

 

Rachel Hopkins, the Labour MP for Luton South, talked about the challenges facing her constituency:

 

“I also speak as a sitting local councillor in my constituency of Luton South, which has many examples of the housing failures of 10 years of Tory rule, most recently brought to my attention by the Luton Community Forum. A lack of genuinely affordable housing and the changes to housing benefit and universal credit for the under-35s have increased the reliance on houses of multiple occupancy. Alongside that, an increase in unfit housing created through permitted development rights means that young people and families alike are living in substandard, overcrowded conditions, and house prices and private rents are unaffordable for many.

So what is the Government’s response? Cutting red tape—or, as I would say, removing regulations and democratic oversight that are there to ensure good-quality, safe homes. As the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects put it:

“Deregulation won’t solve the housing crisis.”

The Government’s “Planning for the Future” White Paper fundamentally misdiagnoses the cause of and the solutions to the housing crisis in this country. Affordable homes are no longer affordable and there are not enough homes being built, particularly for social rent.

In Luton, we have more than 13,000 people on our council house waiting list. Luton Council’s affordable housing document identified an unmet need of around 5,500 affordable dwellings, but there are few brownfield sites left in our town to develop. The duty to co-operate has been more or less ignored by neighbouring authorities.

Key workers in Luton are struggling to pay rent. The very people we have relied on throughout the pandemic to keep us safe—our nurses, hospital cleaners and care home staff—are going home worried about keeping a roof over their own and their families’ heads. The latest End Child Poverty statistics state that 46% of children in my constituency live in poverty. The Government should be supporting children out of poverty, not consigning them to it. A good-quality, secure home is the foundation for a stable future.

While the planning system needs reform, simply slashing red tape ignores some of the real issues, including the fact that there are no measures to force developers to use unimplemented planning permissions or to tackle land banking, as has been raised by many hon. Members. ​As the Local Government Association has noted, nine in 10 applications are approved by councils, with more than 1 million homes that were given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built. That must be addressed.

The White Paper’s front-loading of public participation towards involvement only in the development of the local plan and away from individual applications strips local people of their voice in planning applications and removes their ability to formally object to specific developments in their area. It deprives elected councillors and communities of the ability to shape their area and shifts the balance in favour of developer choice instead. If we want to build back better, local people and communities must be at the heart of any regeneration and they should have more say, not less.

Scrapping red tape and extending permitted development rights will lead to the creation of more slum housing that does not meet the needs of local people. My constituents in Luton South desperately need a better plan, one that will build high-quality, genuinely affordable and environmentally sustainable homes. The Government have fallen way short of the mark for a decade as the situation has worsened, and now they have presented the House with a plan that takes local communities further away from planning decisions, while lining the pockets of wealthy developers. The Government need to rethink.”

 

Read CPRE Bedfordshire’s response to the consultations here

Watch CPRE Bedfordshire Chair, Gerry Sansom, on Politics East talking about some of the issues raised. (Planning feature starts at 4:56)

 

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