Long-term Plan for Housing

– in the House of Commons at 2:06 pm on 19 December 2023.

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Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing) 2:06, 19 December 2023

I apologise on behalf of the Department for the points you have just highlighted, Madam Deputy Speaker.

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s commitment to house building and the planning policy reforms we are making today.

This Government want to build more homes in the right places, more quickly, more beautifully and more sustainably. We know that the right way to deliver this is through a reformed planning system. Today, the Secretary of State and I are laying out our plan for that reform, and we are clear that it is only through up-to-date local plans that local authorities can deliver for communities, protect the land and the assets that matter most, and create the conditions for more homes to be delivered.

Having plans in place unlocks land for homes, for hospitals and general practitioner centres, for schools, for power grid connections and more. It lays the foundations for our economic growth and the levelling up of our communities. The first change we are making today is to update the national planning policy framework. We consulted on a series of proposals last December and received more than 26,000 responses, which we have worked through in detail.

The resulting update builds on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and delivers on the intent set out by the Secretary of State last year, and it does so in a way that will promote building the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, which will ensure that the environment is protected and give local people a greater say on where and where not to place new, beautiful development.

I will now summarise the key changes being made to the framework today, and hon. Members should refer to the consultation response and the framework itself for the published policies. First, the standard method for assessing local housing need figures has sometimes been difficult to apply in some areas, and has been blind to the exceptional characteristics of local communities. The new NPPF makes it clear that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting point in plan making for establishing an area’s housing requirement.

The revised NPPF also now provides more clarity on what may constitute exceptional circumstances for using an alternative method to assess housing need. The framework is also clear that the urban uplift should be accommodated in the urban areas in which it is applied, and should not be exported unless there is a voluntary cross-boundary agreement in place. New homes are most desperately needed in urban areas, so it is essential that city councils plan properly for local people.

Secondly, given the importance of the green belt to so many, the new NPPF is clear that there is generally no requirement on local authorities to review or alter green belt boundaries. Unlike Labour’s plan to concrete over the countryside, we will not impose top-down release of green-belt land against the wishes of local communities. Where a relevant local planning authority chooses to conduct a review, existing national policy will continue to expect that green-belt boundaries are altered only where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, and this should only be through the preparation or updating of plans. The Government are making no changes to the rules that govern what can and cannot be built on green-belt land, but we are clarifying in guidance where brownfield development can occur on the green belt, provided that the openness of the green belt is not harmed.

Thirdly, the Government are clear that the character of an existing area should be respected, particularly in the historic suburbs of our great towns and cities. The new NPPF therefore recognises that there may be situations in plan making where significant uplifts in urban residential densities would be inappropriate, as they would be wholly out of character with that existing area. In these cases, authorities need not plan for such development. That will apply where there is a design code that is adopted, or will be adopted, as part of the local plan. I know the shadow Minister will sympathise with this change, given that he recently opposed 1,500 new homes in his constituency due to the impact on Greenwich’s local character.

Fourthly, where an up-to-date plan is in place—a plan less than five years old—and contained a deliverable five-year supply of land when examined by the inspector, authorities will no longer be required to update that supply annually. This change provides those authorities with additional protection from the presumption in favour of sustainable development. We are also fully removing what are known as the 5% and 10% buffers, which could be applied to an authority’s housing land supply. A transitional arrangement will ensure that decision making on live applications is not affected, thus avoiding disruption to applications in the system. For authorities that have not yet passed examination but are either at examination, regulation 18 or regulation 19 stage, and have both a policy map and proposed allocations, there will be a two-year grace period in which they need to demonstrate only a four-year housing land supply for decision making. That is a strong incentive for councils to now do the right thing and agree a local plan.

Fifthly, local communities that have worked hard to put neighbourhood plans in place should not be penalised for the failure of their council to ensure an up-to-date local plan. The new NPPF therefore extends protection for neighbourhood plans from speculative development from two to five years, where those plans allocate at least one housing site. The updated framework also gives greater support to self-build, custom-build and community-led housing, and to encouraging the delivery of older people’s housing, including retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.

Next, the NPPF cements the role of beauty and placemaking in the planning system; it now expressly uses the word “beautiful” in relation to “well-designed places”. It also now requires greater “visual clarity” on design requirements set out in planning conditions and supports gentle density through the promotion of mansard roof development. Finally, the new NPPF also strengthens protections for agricultural land, by being clear that consideration should be given to the availability of agricultural land for food production in development decisions. The NPPF also supports the Government’s energy security strategy, by giving significant weight to the importance of energy efficiency in the adaptation of existing buildings, while protecting heritage.

With the updated NPPF now in place, the other reforms we are making today are focused on setting higher expectations for performance. Those who operationalise the system—local authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and statutory consultees—must live up to their responsibilities. To support that, we are taking action on four fronts. First, we will ensure greater transparency, because exposing what is really going on in a system sparks action. So we will publish a new local authority performance dashboard in 2024, and pull back the veil on the use of extension of time agreements, which in too many instances are concealing poor performance.

Secondly, we have been providing, and will continue to provide, additional financial support. That includes the increased planning fees that went live a fortnight ago, as well as a range of funds to tackle backlogs and improve capability. Thirdly, we will tackle slow processes, with Sam Richards leading a review into the statutory consultee system and a greater focus from the Planning Inspectorate where planning committees are seeing their decisions overturned on appeal.

Finally, we will intervene where we need to. The Secretary of State has issued a direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan making, requiring them to publish a plan timetable within 12 weeks of the publication of the new NPPF. Should they fail, we will consider further intervention. We are also designating two additional authorities for their decision-making performance and we will review the thresholds for designation to make sure to make sure we are not letting off the hook authorities that should be doing better.

We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed by the capital are simply not being built and opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration go begging as a result of the Mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. A review launched today will identify where changes to policy could speed up the delivery of much-needed homes. If directing change in London becomes necessary, this Government will do that.

In designing these reforms we have aimed to facilitate desirable development, constrained only by appropriate protections. That is a balance I am confident we have struck.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:14, 19 December 2023

I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Nothing screams long-term housing plan quite like a statement from the 16th Housing Minister since 2010 outlining the fourth set of changes to the national planning policy framework in as many years. As ever with this Government, the reality in no way matches the rhetoric, as we see with the headline announcements made to the press—not this House—over the past 24 hours. Not only are they seemingly at odds with the Government’s stated wish to give local communities more of a say about the placement of new developments; the truth is that the ink will barely be dry on outline plans for the proposed expansion of Cambridge by the time the general election is called. The punitive and nakedly political interventions that Ministers are working up for London ahead of the mayoral election will, likewise, do nothing in practice to resolve the constraints that they themselves have imposed on house building in the capital, not least by leaving industry completely in the dark when it comes to second staircase regulations for tall buildings, at a cost of thousands of new homes.

When it comes to meaningful support for small and medium-sized house builders, the Government have been talking, literally for years, about the various ways in which they need greater support while presiding over their continued decline. Far from unlocking a new generation of home building, as the Secretary of State has claimed, the detailed changes being made to the NPPF today will almost certainly further suppress collapsing house building rates. Let us be clear: although there have been minor tweaks, the changes being made are those that the Government, in their weakness, promised the so-called “Planning Concern Group” of Tory Back Benchers they would enact back in December last year in order to stave off a rebellion on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. That is precisely why the members of that group are so pleased with the ”compromise” they have secured today.

I have a number of detailed questions for the Minister, starting with the impact of these changes on overall housing supply. Whether it is the softening of land supply requirements or the listing of various local characteristics that would justify a deviation from the now only advisory standard method, can he confirm that the changes made to the NPPF, taken together, will give those local authorities that wish to take advantage of it the freedom to plan for less housing than their nominal local targets imply? If he disputes that that will be their effect, what technical evidence can he provide to demonstrate that these changes can be reconciled with a boost to housing delivery?

I turn to the Government’s 300,000 annual housing target, which the Secretary of State recommitted himself to today. How on earth does the Minister imagine that the changes that have been made to the rules around plan making will help the Government finally meet that target, particularly given that the arbitrary 35% urban uplift has been retained but the requirement for local planning authorities to try to meet it out of area in co-operation with their neighbours if they cannot do so alone has been removed? Can the Minister finally provide a convincing explanation of how and when the Government’s 300,000 homes a year target will be met? Or is it the case that it remains alive in name only, abandoned in practice even if not formally abolished?

Let me turn to local plan coverage. In many ways, the revised NPPF speaks to a planning framework that does not actually exist, because under this Government we have a local plan-led system in which only a minority of local authorities have up-to-date plans. According to the most recent figures, just 33% have local plans that have been adopted or reviewed within the past five years and only 10 new plans have been submitted for examination this year—in part, this is because of the chilling effect of the Government’s December 2022 concession. Yet only now, in the dying days of this Government, are Ministers seemingly getting a bit more serious about intervening to drive up coverage.

In The Times today, the Secretary of State announced a new three-month deadline for up-to-date local plans to be submitted. Will the Minister outline the thinking behind that timeframe and tell us what happens if multiple local authorities fail to meet the new March deadline? In his Times interview, the Secretary of State suggested that local authorities that miss that deadline will have development forced on them and their powers to delay applications removed. Can the Minister tell us precisely how that would be achieved? The Secretary of State also suggested that recalcitrant councils will be stripped of their planning responsibilities. Can the Minister tell us who will take them on, given that the Planning Inspectorate clearly does not have the capacity to do so?

Finally, although it is the Government’s contention that the changes made today will boost local plan coverage, surely the Minister recognises that even if that is ultimately their effect, it will be at the cost of overall housing supply because it will entail the enactment of numerous plans that will not meet the needs of local communities in full. In short, isn’t the truth of the matter that today’s changes entail a deliberate shift from a plan-led system focused on making at least some attempt to meet housing need, to one geared toward providing only what the politics of any given area allow, with all the implications that entails for the housing crisis and economic growth?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I thank the Opposition spokesperson for his comments, which I will address in turn. He started by saying that this is the fourth time we have updated the guidance in the last few years. If his criticism is that we are willing to listen, be flexible and adaptable, and recognise the differences between his constituency of Greenwich and Woolwich and the constituencies of Government Back Benchers, then he is correct. We are willing to be flexible and adaptable, but we also recognise that we need to build more homes; we just want to ensure that they are built in the right places, which is exactly what today’s update seeks to do.

The difference between my party and that of the Opposition spokesperson is that we recognise the nuance in the discussion. Within the NPPF, we are trying to accommodate the fact that different areas and parts of the country have to be approached in different ways. While the policies of the hon. Gentleman’s party move backwards and forwards on different days of the week, we will continue to ensure that we build more homes—in the right place, with the right infrastructure and with the support of the community. In the long run, that will ensure that we make progress on housing in general.

The hon. Gentleman asked a question about freedom to plan. The housing needs assessment will be made by all councils, but councils can make a case if there is an exceptional circumstance that applies in their local area. If that were not possible, there would be no exceptions for any council, local authority or community anywhere, which would be completely unnuanced. However, on a macro level it remains the case that we will seek to build more houses. When councils have plans in place, they tend to deliver more houses than when such plans are not in place, so if we can get more plans in place, we will have the opportunity to build more homes that have the consent and support of the community in which they will be built.

The hon. Gentleman asked about urban uplift and the removal of co-operation with neighbours. We uplifted the targets and expectations on the basis that those houses would go into cities and would not be exported into the countryside near cities, because the whole point was to acknowledge the infrastructure in those cities. There are schools in London that are closing because insufficient numbers of children are using them. We do not want to export housing elsewhere; we want to use that infrastructure—including transport links and educational establishments—as was intended when it was built.

This is not about whether we believe in a plan-led system or not—we clearly do. It is about the fact that this Government are getting on with the hard job of striking a balance, recognising the nuance and ensuring that more progress is being made, versus the Opposition stating that they want to build houses, but then voting against that happening in relation to nutrient neutrality. If they put their money where their mouth was and did what they say they will do, they would have the ability to stand up and make such arguments consistently. They do not and, as a result, I will not listen to them.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

Before talking about the general policy, may I mention one small point? In paragraph 22 of his statement, the Minister talks about energy efficiency in heritage buildings. In Ambrose Place in Worthing—including at the house of one of my neighbours, where Harold Pinter lived—people are being told that they can have only secondary glazing, not double glazing, because it is in a conservation area. I hope that the Minister will talk with experts and say that double glazing is acceptable in reasonable circumstances, when people want to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

On the general point, the Minister mentions the green belt. According to one calculation, there are 16 green belts in England, none of which is in East Sussex or West Sussex. I interpret his words as meaning “green gaps”: an expression used by the Secretary of State when he commented on the problems of Worthing, where every single bit of grass—the vineyards, the golf courses and the green fields—between Worthing and its neighbours to the west is subject to a planning application. It is important that the inspectors in his Department do not come along, as they did over the land north of Goring station, to Chatsmore Farm and the Goring Gap and say that even if Worthing built on every bit of lawn in town, it would not meet the full target, and yet give permission to build on that farm, which distinguishes Worthing from its neighbours.

It is also important to follow up the Minister’s words about intense development in the centre of villages, towns and cities, so that there are homes in high-density accommodation that elderly people can choose to live in, so that their family homes can be freed for families. The idea that most of the development on our green fields is for families is for the birds—it is for people on their second or third homes. I think people who are my sort of age ought to have the choice to live securely in high-thermal efficiency apartments, with services that do not require cars, and where they can live more easily and happily.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend makes an important point about energy efficiency, which I am happy to talk to him about in more detail. He is a champion for Worthing West. I have family who live close to Worthing, and know the Goring Gap well. He makes a strong point about the importance of preserving character and ensuring communities build the right homes in the right places, while recognising that there are places where that should not be the case. I am always happy to talk to him about that.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

This morning, the Secretary of State complained about house prices. If the Government are now rightly acknowledging the impact of spiralling mortgage payments on our constituencies, when will they apologise for the cause of that—their disastrous mini-Budget?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am glad to see that the talking points have already started from the Opposition Back Benches. Despite choosing not to acknowledge it, the hon. Lady will know that interest rates have risen across the world, followed by a normalisation of interest rates for a number of months as a recognition of changed economic circumstances. If the hon. Lady and her party want to continue to make mischief and nuisance about that, it is their right to do so, but that does not accurately reflect what has happened. This Government will always try to work through those difficult situations and improve things for the people of this country.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Will my hon. Friend confirm that over the past 12 months, in writing and at the Dispatch Box, Ministers have consistently said that when making a local plan, planning authorities will be able to take into account historically high house building levels by lowering the amount of housing they need to plan for? Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has delivered exceptional levels of house building, with new homes for 150,000 people over the last five decades. How will the Government now make good on their year-long commitment to recognise Basingstoke’s almost unique position by doing whatever is needed to support the planning authority to successfully agree a revised local plan, with significantly lower overall house building figures because of the very high amount of house building over the last five decades?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My right hon. Friend is right that we consulted on that subject. In recognition of that consultation, we have chosen not to take forward the over-supply point at this time, but we are open to looking at it and reviewing it in the future. I accept Basingstoke’s particular circumstances, and have spoken to her separately about the recognition that there has been substantial building in Basingstoke over many decades. I am happy to talk to her about the exceptional circumstances provision and look at exactly how that may apply to Basingstoke.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

York is now the 15th least affordable place to live in the country. My constituents will have no confidence in what the Minister and the Secretary of State have set out today, because they have been waiting for a local plan for 76 years and counting. The sticking point has been with the Government Department, not the will of the Labour council. When will York receive its local plan, be able to protect the precious space we have and build the tenure of housing we need, as opposed to developers moving in and building luxury flats that no one can afford?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

We are keen to ensure that local plans progress as quickly as possible, not just for York but for every other council that chooses to pursue the process, and we will continue to add support and capacity into the system to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

In the written ministerial statement—as opposed to the oral statement we have just heard—there is a strong suggestion that there will be a review of London and the centre of London. One challenge we face in suburban London is that planning applications for high-density, very tall buildings—normally comprising units of two bedrooms, two bathrooms and one shared living space—are very suitable for young professionals, but totally useless for families. There is a shortage of family accommodation in outer London, and people would welcome more houses but not high-density flats.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: a balance must be struck. We will review the situation in London. We do not think that it is acceptable; we do not think that the Mayor has done his job in this regard and we will be reviewing that. We also recognise—I hope my comments earlier indicated this—that there are places in urban areas where character is very important, and we need to make sure that there is an appropriate balance in that regard.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat-led St Albans City and District Council is rightly pressing ahead with the development of its local plan, after the previous Conservative administration had its plan thrown out by the inspector. Two years ago, I wrote to the Government requesting additional funding so that we could accelerate our plan-making process, but the Government said no. I then requested that they allow us to charge developers the full cost of processing applications, but, even with all the tinkering, we are still not able to do that, and taxpayers in St Albans are still subsidising developers to the tune of £3 million a year to process their applications. Today the Government have asked our local council to publish a timetable in the next 12 weeks, but if Ministers and their officials used Google, they would find it on the website.

Apparently, Ministers have announced that the new protections apply to areas with local plans, but not to areas with draft local plans. That means that in St Albans, villages such as Colney Heath, which are besieged by inappropriate development, will not benefit from the protections. Will the Minister confirm whether our local district council and planning inspectors can firmly say no to inappropriate, speculative development, or is this just another empty promise from this Government?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I believe that the Liberal Democrats have been in charge of St Albans City and District Council since 2019. That is four and a half years of opportunity to put a local plan in place. It is on the Liberal Democrats for failing to do so. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats could explain whether, as part of that local plan, they will take their share of the 380,000 homes that their conference said they needed to build in the future.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

May I ask the Minister for a very clear answer on the controversial matter of housing targets? Basically, there are two ways of doing it: we can have mandatory targets, where the man in Whitehall knows best and hands down to local authorities a target with which they have to comply whether or not it is sensible, or we can have advisory targets, where the Department can recommend a target, but if the locally elected councillors and the people whom they represent know that it is too high and can give strong reasons why—for instance, if their district or borough has a large amount of green belt—they can legitimately push back in their plan and offer a lower number. So there is the mandatory option, which is the Labour option, and the advisory option, which is the Conservative option. Is my understanding correct?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. For the first time ever, the NPPF says, at paragraph 61:

“The outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting-point”.

Then there are potentially exceptional circumstances that can be discussed with a representative of the Government—in this case the Planning Inspectorate—and the case can be made and then discussed. If that is accepted, an alternative approach can be taken.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports)

Our country is facing a housing crisis and, after more than 13 long years, the Government have utterly failed the nation. Data from Glenigan published this week show that planning consents are at a record low, 20% down on last year, and they are due to become the lowest in a decade next year. Fifty-eight local housing authorities have scrapped or delayed their local plan as a direct result of the Secretary of State’s flip-flopping on housing targets last year. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s flip-flopping and dither and delay are having a significant downward effect on planning and housing delivery?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I have the greatest of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but we need to have a serious conversation about this. Planning consents are down because planning applications are down, and that is due to the global economic challenges. [Interruption.] Labour’s Front-Bench team do not want to accept that there are global economic challenges. That just demonstrates why they are so unready for the government of this country. We are trying to make sure, first, that we work through the global financial challenges and, secondly, that we still build the homes. One way that we undermine the building of more homes—the kind of homes that I know the hon. Gentleman and I would both like to see—is by not taking communities with us. What we seek to do today is inject more balance into the system so that we can take more communities with us. If we can get more plans in place, it usually means that more homes are delivered in the first place.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations, Chair, Treasury Sub-Committee on Financial Services Regulations

I thank the Minister for recognising the hard work that local communities such as Hallow, Clifton upon Teme, Kempsey and Welland have done in my largely rural constituency to develop neighbourhood plans, the strengthening of which has been announced today. None the less, those communities are being let down by the fact that our council is run by the independents and Greens, who do not have a local plan in place. Can he tell us whether the additional protections from speculative development will be immediate or retrospective? When will they take effect?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am a huge fan of neighbourhood plans, as are many of my colleagues across the House. They give communities the opportunity to get involved in the planning process and to get into the detail. They also often demonstrate that having honest conversations with people about planning can take some of the challenge out of the system. We are updating the NPPF with regard to neighbourhood plans, and we are strengthening them, as my hon. Friend outlined. The NPPF is extant from the moment that it is uploaded. There are some indications at the back of the plan where policies take priority at a later date, but we are committed to putting neighbourhood planning at the centre of our planning policy, because we think that it is very successful and helpful for our communities.

Photo of Andrew Western Andrew Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am somewhat perplexed by the renewed focus on strengthening local plans given the abolition of the mandatory housing targets that underpin delivery against them. Indeed, the Minister appears to be outlining a situation in which local authorities can game the system and deliberately plan to under-deliver if they have an up-to-date local plan, but a local authority that is delivering can be stripped of its planning powers because its plan is not up to date. If the Minister is so committed to accelerating housing delivery, why is he creating a situation in which we are both preventing greenfield building and stopping significant increases to urban density?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

We are not preventing increases of urban density. Indeed, we want that to happen. We recognise that there are considerations around things such as second staircases, which we are working at pace to resolve as quickly as possible. We want more homes. We recognise that the infrastructure is often in place in urban areas, and we are keen to take up that infrastructure to be able to unlock those homes for people who need them.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

If I may take the Minister back to paragraph 61, will he confirm that the inclusion for the very first time in the NPPF of the words “advisory starting point” will have an impact on both the level of targets set and the weight to be given to a target? How, in practice, will that change the approach taken by planning inspectors when they approve plans and decide on individual planning appeals?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

It is absolutely the case that the purpose of amending the national planning policy framework today is so that this information and wording, and the insertion of the advisory starting point and everything that follows, are taken into account in the process, and it is important that the planning inspector does that. Obviously, every single council is different, and we have set out the reality that each individual council will need to go through this process, but that should absolutely be taken into account.

Photo of Ian Liddell-Grainger Ian Liddell-Grainger Conservative, Bridgwater and West Somerset

I must say to the Minister that we have been here before with housing targets; I seem to remember Mr John Prescott—Lord Prescott—putting this forward. One of the problems we have is that, in a vast area that includes places such as the Somerset levels, Exmoor and many others, sometimes it is very difficult to build housing. However, where we have an irresponsible council—Liberal Democrat, obviously, in Mid Devon—we have another problem, because they do not care. They do not listen. They are there just to cause trouble at every level. The Minister must make sure that the safeguards are there for people who live in these areas—not hope; we need actual safeguards.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one reason why we have been clear with a number of councils today that they need to get on with things. The whole point is that we put in place a process and a system that work and, for those actors that do not go through it, there are consequences.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

In constituencies such as mine, the green belt is vital to protecting us from the urban sprawl of Birmingham, so I welcome the statement, so far as it goes with its protections for the green belt. However, can the Minister provide greater clarity on the matter of targets? It would be very helpful to have a clear understanding of what is meant by the advisory starting point and its impact on any ongoing mechanisms to impose the quotas of other authorities on a neighbour.

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

On my right hon. Friend’s second point—I am grateful to her for raising it—the duty to co-operate has been superseded. The point of the advisory starting point is to be very clear that individual circumstances might apply within the context of the need to build more homes in the right place. I cannot pre-empt or suggest exactly what that will mean in all instances. There is an example in the NPPF of where we think that is likely to be relevant, but obviously that will be discussed on a case-by-case, council-by-council basis.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. I am encouraged by his words on provision of care and retirement housing and his focus on design quality. I have no doubt that we need more homes, but green spaces and the green belt are of critical concern in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Can he tell me a little more about the safeguards for the green belt under the Conservative party, particularly compared with the Labour party?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct about the importance of older people’s housing. We are currently in the process of supporting an older people’s housing taskforce, and I look forward to its recommendations about how to improve it for the long run. The green belt protections remain today as they were yesterday. What we are putting around them is a clearer process about where the case for exceptional circumstances can be made. It will be down to individual councils, with their individual circumstances, individual beauty and individual environment, to make that case where they feel it is appropriate to do so.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

Communities in South Ribble, including Eccleston, Mawdesley and Croston, are subject to Chorley Council. I understand that Chorley is one of only two councils designated for poor planning performance. Does the Minister believe that that poor performance is due to Chorley’s failure to produce a local plan to protect South Ribble residents from inappropriate planning applications?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

My hon. Friend is a huge champion for her constituents in South Ribble. We need local plans in place. I saw when I first became an MP in North East Derbyshire, where the Labour council failed to put a local plan in place, the huge issues that causes for communities. I know there are other councils all around the country that fail to do that, and it causes so many issues. We have spoken about some of the challenges in South Ribble, and I am keen to work with my hon. Friend and to talk more about them over the weeks ahead. It is important that plans are put in place. Where councils are not performing—where they have not passed the threshold for the number of applications they need to pass or have lost too many on appeal—we will designate and we will be clear that changes are needed.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I place on record my gratitude to the Secretary of State for agreeing, this time last year, to put stronger protections for land use in food production into the NPPF, and to my hon. Friend the Minister for confirming today that they have survived the consultation period. Will he clarify, first, that the new language in the NPPF is a binary test where land is either used in food production or is not, ending the dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin lawyer’s paradise of arguing about what is best and most versatile, and, secondly, that the character test he spoke of applies to rural character as well as in urban environments?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

On my hon. Friend’s second point, absolutely. On his first point, I will read the footnote to paragraph 1.81 of the NPPF:

“The availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered”.

I hope that is helpful.

Photo of Selaine Saxby Selaine Saxby Conservative, North Devon

I thank my hon. Friend for much of today’s announcement. In seats such as mine, it does not really matter what the target is when such a high proportion of the homes that are built are just used as short-term holiday lets. This time a year ago, we agreed to another consultation, which finished this June. I ask again: when might we have the results of that consultation and steps to ensure that, when we build homes in communities such as mine, those homes are affordable for the people who live and work there?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend not just for her question, which gives us only a few seconds to talk about the matter, but for her Adjournment debate a few days ago, when we had a much longer period to talk about it. She makes a very important point; I know how important it is to colleagues in the south-east and elsewhere and, although I am not able to give her a date today, I hope to have more on that very soon.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Conservative, Horsham

I welcome what the Minister says on the importance of neighbourhood plans, on agricultural land and on brownfield development. Can he clarify what the consequences are if a district council has already embarked on a consultation on a local plan but, having studied the NPPF in detail, sees stuff there that it wants to embrace and chooses to adopt elements of the NPPF, which then leads to a consequential delay?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

There is a long section at the end of the revised NPPF that explains the arrangements for councils that are in the process. We are trying to strike a delicate balance, ensuring that councils go through that process to the extent that they are able to, while recognising that those in an earlier part of the process may want to consider some of the changes. It generally is the case, if I recall correctly, that when councils have passed the regulation 19 stage—the second consultation—there is a greater expectation that they will stay in the process. It is ultimately for them to make their own judgments, but the Government will be watching the result.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I think overall that this is a very good plan and very well delivered by the Minister. I welcome in particular the remarks on character, on beauty, on the importance of agricultural land, on the importance of community support and on the fact that targets are a start point and not an end point. Those are significant changes that mean that communities can be listened to. Will the Minister just confirm that the exceptional circumstance will be available—perhaps even welcome—for examples including islands separated by sea, such as my Isle of Wight constituency?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

The footnotes to paragraph 61 use as an example

“areas that are islands with no land bridge that have a significant proportion of elderly residents.”

I hope my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that that sounds very much like the Isle of Wight.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

It is a privilege, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Five years ago, the export of houses from Derby made a local plan in Amber Valley impossible, but there is no reason for delay now. Does the Minister agree that there is no reason for the Labour-run council not to have made more rapid progress with the pretty reasonable plan it inherited in May? Will he also confirm what the consequence will be if the 12-week direction he has issued today does not result in rapid progress, to ensure that residents in Amber Valley get a local plan sometime soon?

Photo of Lee Rowley Lee Rowley Minister of State (Minister for Housing)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, who I know speaks up for his constituents. Labour won Amber Valley Borough Council and it now needs to own ensuring that the council delivers on its responsibilities. If Labour has made promises to Amber Valley residents that it cannot fulfil, that is on Labour. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of councils to make sure that they have a plan in place, and to do that at the earliest possible opportunity. Where Labour councils such as Amber Valley are failing to do that and are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, it is right that he calls that out. Amber Valley needs to get on with its plan.