Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Part of Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Conservative, North East Derbyshire 5:44 pm, 2nd July 2019

Thank you for this opportunity to speak in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is a pleasure to follow my fellow Public Accounts Committee member, Gareth Snell. We debate many of these things on a regular basis. I congratulate Layla Moran, who is also a member of the Committee, on having organised this debate and ensuring that it occurred. I want to talk about a couple of points, primarily about policy perspectives relating to housing and planning, which my right hon. Friend Priti Patel also mentioned.

Before I do that, I should like to refer gently to the points raised by Mr Jones. I do not want to get too political, but the problem with baselining everything at 2010 is that we all know in our heart of hearts that that is not the right place to start. I know that from the perspective of local government, because I was a councillor for four years before 2010 and I can recall the amount of money that was sloshing around in the system. Quite frankly, there was too much money in the system because some councils did not know how to spend it and were certainly not spending it effectively. We have to be careful when we go back to those kinds of baselines, not least because that arrangement was unsustainable on a national level and inopportune in many areas at local level.

Moving on to the policy points, I have a couple of suggestions for my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. One is about an issue that deserves greater attention in housing policy. The other about is fracking, which is a favourite interest of mine and which many Members are already bored by. On housing, I know from debates such as these, from discussions in the Select Committee and from watching what is happening across the midlands and the north of England that the national planning policy framework—useful though it is in many areas—is becoming a somewhat blunt tool in other parts, particularly around housing. We see the emphasis on house building, particularly in the midlands and the north, which I welcome. I welcome the 217,000 houses that were built last year and the 35,000 housing starts in the first quarter. We can also see the huge pipeline of planning permissions that has built up to an average of 350,000 a year over the past few years.

The policies are obviously working, but we have to ask ourselves whether they are becoming a slightly blunt tool. Areas in the midlands and the north are being asked to take large swathes of housing, but if we look at the best proxy for housing, which is house prices over the past 10 years or so, we see that there has been either no increase in house prices or a real-terms house price drop. I would like us to consider moving the national planning policy framework towards a more regional approach. We obviously have a problem in the south-east and around London, and it is absolutely appropriate that we should address that, but in other areas we might need to think again.

I shall move on to fracking, as I do on a semi-regular basis in this place. The reason that I bring it up regularly is that I do not think everyone in this place really understands the consequences of our fracking policy and where it might end up. If we do not understand it now, we run the risk of facing some very large bills in the future, along with the significant impact on many communities including mine, where we have a fracking application in Marsh Lane at the top of my constituency. No one in Government has ever been clear on what the purpose of fracking is.