We are simply not building enough to keep up with both the demand and the challenges that are faced by many of our constituents who want to buy homes of their own. Government initiatives are radical and welcome, but I would advocate further action, and I hope that the Government will consider some of the following proposals.
First, there is a need to build on green spaces. Nearly 80% of my constituency is designated as “area of outstanding natural beauty”. There is a shortage of land afforded for local employment, but where there is such land, it is on brownfield sites. If the tens of thousands of houses that my district councils intend to build are allocated to brownfield employment sites, where will our current and next generations of homeowners work?
In one of my parishes, the village petitioned the district council to allow a small housing complex to be built on a green field just outside the building boundary. As a result of the campaign for building to be allowed on that green site, Etchingham now has a new school, a new village hall, and new affordable housing—all of it courtesy of that bold move. I should like the Government to make it easier to allow parish and town councils to make such decisions. When a district council has a plan, parishes and towns are required to conform to it; if they do not so, their own local plans will not be approved by the district council. I should like to free parishes and towns from the shackles of district plan compliance. If they want to designate a site, then let them do so, and let them override district plans for their own purposes if that is within the planning laws.
Secondly, there is a need to deliver more infrastructure. Although the argument that more housing is required is being won, there is a real fear that communities will not have schools, doctors and other essential public services until the housing has been completed. If authorities could deliver infrastructure at the same time as building began, the public might embrace the building of more housing, and might even ask for more housing than had been scoped if, say, a new secondary school would be built with a few hundred more houses. I should like local authorities to be given the power to borrow money against the receipts from new homes bonuses, although, of course, that would work only if the new homes bonus scheme were extended for as long as the plans.
Thirdly, consent needs to be turned into new homes. The amount of land where planning consent has been granted but work has not begun continues to cause concern. The lack of building not only adds to the problem of a shortage of housing numbers, but also deprives local authorities of the ability to collect receipts from section funding or community infrastructure levies. I would support a policy that required developers to pay a first instalment of section 106 moneys within 12 months of the granting of planning consent, rather than on the completion of developments. Such a policy would not only incentivise house building and increase stock, but would permit local authorities to deliver vital infrastructure in parallel with house building.
The need to tackle our housing shortage is a huge priority. It is a national tragedy that more is not being done, but I support the Government on what is being done.