My Lords, first, I draw attention to my interests on the register; in particular, I am president of the National Association of Local Councils. Although not in the register of interests, I chair a neighbourhood plan in a rural village.
I spoke on this in Committee to support the noble Lord, Lord Best—I was a member of the rural housing review that he conducted. I speak today in support of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. However, primarily, I want to urge the Minister to address the very real issue that is being raised here. I will not repeat all of the comments that I made before about the importance in small, rural communities of making sure that there are homes that the people who work in the shop, the pub, on the farm and with the children in the local school can afford to live in. I believe that that is something that unites the House. I simply say that in a world in which we want to protect many rural villages and communities from overdevelopment, one solution to affordable housing—simply to build enough houses so that prices come down—is not available. That means that if we are to provide homes for the people who do the work of the countryside, we have to do it in the form of affordable housing, whether it is to rent or through part ownership. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, the rural housing review made it clear—I believe that the Government know this—that the majority of such homes are provided on small sites as a result of affordable housing requirements. These are not sites which are unviable for development. There may be small urban sites where the costs of development are such that providing affordable housing is genuinely difficult to do viably, but in these cases, typically, the land has enormous value when given permission for market housing. While landowners in some cases may seek to maximise their returns, I think that it is legitimate, right and indeed part of neighbourhood planning that we say that the returns they make should be shared with the community by providing some affordable homes. Some landowners will do so voluntarily, but too often that will not be the case.
I took part in a meeting with Ministers just after the rural housing review was published. I believe that they understood the issues raised. I simply say that this is not just about the AONBs and the national parks but is about giving assurance to communities or villages that may go through the neighbourhood plan route, or may simply have a parish plan, working with landowners and their local planning authority, to allow them to take that decision about those housing needs and to address them. I believe that Ministers understand that. I believe that it unites the House, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance now.