I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the five-year land supply.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and to have been selected to introduce this important debate. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister. It is great to see so many colleagues here—their presence underlines the importance of this issue.
The phrase “five-year land supply” sounds innocuous, but it cuts through to one of the most critical parts of the planning system. We all know the national picture. There is consensus that we need to build more homes because of the crisis of home ownership and the fact that housing is very expensive in large parts of the country. Those houses have to be built somewhere. There is often tension in communities about where properties should go, so we rely on our planning system to come to fair decisions about how sites are allocated and developed. I fully accept that the Government require a method for measuring the extent to which councils deliver those homes, but the five-year land supply system—although it is understandable in the way it is set out—is fundamentally flawed. Rather than encouraging the delivery of homes, it encourages speculative development. That is true not only in my constituency, because a number of colleagues have spoken to me about it.
Let us understand why the situation arises. If the council or planning authority in question does not have a five-year land supply, rather than local policy taking priority when planning applications are considered, the national planning policy framework becomes the priority. Neighbourhood plans fall away and local policies become far less important.
Let me correct my hon. Friend. Neighbourhood plans do not fall away. The law was changed, under ministerial guidance, to bring the five-year land supply down to three years where there is a neighbourhood plan that allocates sites and is two years old. My constituents have made a lot of that important concession.
I know that my hon. Friend was influential in neighbourhood plans. I was going to make that point, which is certainly true, so that was not so much a correction as a preview. I always say to my communities, “If you’re going to do a neighbourhood plan, allocate sites, because it will still be relevant if there is only a three-year land supply.” That incredibly important development was confirmed by Gavin Barwell when he was Housing Minister.
I fully support my hon. Friend. In Wokingham we have 11,000 outstanding planning permissions and a required build rate of 900 a year. People might therefore think that we had a 12-year supply, but until recently the Government said that we had less than a five-year supply. They do not want to endorse our decision, which makes a lot of sense, to have four major sites with infrastructure and other support.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. That chimes with the situation in my area and many others, as I have heard from colleagues. I will come back to that point.
To understand why the system leads to speculative development, it is important to understand that when I say local policy becomes less important in the absence of a five-year land supply, I basically mean that it becomes far easier for a developer to get an application through on appeal. That is the nub of the issue. The district may still reject the application, but the point is that a developer with savvy lawyers and all the rest of it can game the system and get their application through on appeal. When it goes to appeal, the local community and local democracy have almost no say and the system becomes unaccountable. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.
One might say, “Hold on a minute, we want to build more homes. Isn’t that the way we should be doing things?” Let me use as an example the district of Babergh, which is entirely within my constituency. Babergh has been charged with providing 7,820 homes over the next 20 years. It has already granted unbuilt permissions for almost 5,000, so almost two thirds of 20 years’ worth of permissions have already been granted, yet we are seen as not having a five-year housing supply. That is extraordinary.
The irony is that that land is sitting on balance sheets rather than being delivered. That precludes smaller builders and developers from taking on sites. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to find a way to resolve that and allow some of our smaller builders to deliver?
I know that my hon. Friend is passionate about that issue and has come up with some radical suggestions in that regard.
The experience in Babergh is common around the country, and it underlines my main point. It sounds good in principle to say to councils, “Nimby councils will be held to account—you must deliver the homes,” but they are doing the right thing. They are granting permissions—in fact, they are granting way more than they are meant to—and going through the pain of taking controversial decisions in planning committees and so on, but sites are not being built out.
I led a debate on this issue earlier this year, which my hon. Friend supported. Does he agree that although we must get the detail right, there is also a question of principle? Through the Localism Act 2011, we set out to be the party that, when in government, gave local communities the chance to shape their future. We are now in danger of looking like we are in favour of speculators, profiteers and out-of-town developers, who dump housing estates that we legislate for, with no responsibility being taken locally. That is not what our party should be about.
That is an excellent point. The key word, which we will hear a lot in the coming days, is “control.” We call it speculative development because the community loses control. Let us be honest: if an area has a five-year land supply, there will still be controversial planning applications, but those will be determined by the local authority. People will be unhappy about homes being built in—this is a terrible phrase—their backyard, but the point is that the local community will have a say; it will have control.
Colleagues know what speculative applications are like. They come forward, often from a new breed of company called the promoter of a development, rather than from a builder. Those companies work the system to their advantage, putting out brochures that often boast, “Your local district doesn’t have a five-year land supply.” We get extraordinarily unpopular applications that get people marching down our streets, yet we find there is nothing we can do about them. It is not like councils are not doing the right thing; they are giving out thousands of planning permissions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As he rightly says, there is a need for local councils to deliver housing where that is appropriate. Mid Suffolk and Babergh failed for a number of years to address housing provision. Only under new leadership, with a new chief executive, did they take the issue forward and look at developing a local plan, underneath which neighbourhood plans will sit. What does he say to those councils, and how can we make councils look at their local housing need and deliver homes for people who need them?
That is a perfectly fair point. Many councils will have been seen as recalcitrant in the past. My point is about build-out rates. The councils I am talking about are delivering permissions; the issue is the build-out rate. No one disputes that. The Government themselves appointed my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin to review the delivery of permissions, and I very much welcome that.
I am not going to speak for much longer, because colleagues wish to contribute and I think we will be interrupted by Divisions. I have a simple ask. The Government are looking at what measures to bring in to compel, incentivise or encourage development, so that permissions become properties in which people can live. While those powers are not at hand, there should be a transition period during which councils are assessed purely on the number of permissions they grant. If councils do not have the power to compel development, how can we punish them for sites with permission not being built out? That is the core of my ask.
What effect would that have? What would happen if we said tomorrow, “Councils will now be measured purely on the number of permissions they grant rather than on the build-out rate”? The answer is simple: builders would have to build out the sites for which they had been granted permission—hey presto! That is surely how the system should work. The Government clearly do not want this to happen, but as many as 60, 70 or 80 councils do not have a five-year land supply, which means that, rather than more delivery, they get speculative applications that undermine consent for the planning system.
What does this issue boil down to? It is about having sustainable development rather than speculative development. Sustainable development does not mean that everyone welcomes development in their backyard and is excited about 150 new houses being built in their village or market town, but it at least means that they trust the system is legitimate and give it their consent. That is being squeezed out by the five-year land supply system. I simply say to the Minister that he should listen to me and to colleagues when we say that we need to look seriously at reforming this area.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I shall be brief, because we are likely to be interrupted by Divisions.
I am pleased to say ditto, because we have exactly the same problems in Stroud district. We face the dilemma that for all the houses we might want to build, we have a huge number of extant planning permissions—more than 5,000—but no ability to force recalcitrant developers, promoters or landowners to develop those sites, whoever they may be. That is depressing, because we have an acute housing need.
There are two other elements. First, the Government have substantially increased the number of houses that we are expected to get built. We are mystified by how they came to the number they did. Hopefully the Minister can do some work via his civil servants to find out why our numbers increased so dramatically when other authorities in Gloucestershire have had minimal increases, a standstill or actually a reduction. That would be helpful, because we think we are being punished for the simple fact that we have been quite good at delivering on our housing, despite all those extant sites.
Secondly—we all know about this—there is the viability assessment. Developer after developer comes back to us and says, “We can no longer afford to build those affordable units. The scheme is now very different from when we got planning permission. We cannot afford to provide the infrastructure we said we would and, more particularly, we will have to reduce, or indeed remove completely, the affordable units that are part of the existing planning permission. If we can’t do that, we will appeal or—worse—move ourselves off the sites,” and then we get no housing at all.
Those two elements make it difficult for a small district authority to keep up with demand—we are trying to build houses, as the Government and the Opposition want—while dealing with those people who say to us, quite rightly, “This was the planning permission. We might not have liked it, but we were getting some affordable houses out of it, so we stomached it. And what have we got? We’ve been kicked in the teeth.” It is as simple as that. Therefore, parish councils that might have proposed innovative schemes say, “Well, that other parish council got turned over big time. Why should we even consider this?” The process and environment is totally negative, adversarial and difficult.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. Does he agree that one injustice in the current system is that those councils—parish councils, in my case—that lead and put together a neighbourhood plan normally propose more housing than the district council had done, but they end up being punished for doing so, not rewarded? Three villages in my constituency did so and have ended up with a Gladman-led development forced through against their wishes. That destroys rather than enhances public trust in planning.
We actually beat Gladman in my constituency, so there is at least one aspect where we are slightly different, but the reality is exactly that. It is most difficult to persuade parish councils that they can do more when they have seen their neighbouring parishes turned over big time.
There is a generic problem, so I appeal to the Minister to look at the process—and in particular at Stroud district, because we have a specific problem with our increase. We will never build anything like the numbers of houses we want unless we solve that quickly. We need clarity so that people know that what is promised will be delivered. Dare I say that we could get rid of some of these extant sites? If the developers do not want to use them, they should lose them. We will find other people who will come and build on them appropriately, and then we will begin to deal with our housing problems.
The last time I was in this Chamber, I had cause to warn the rail Minister, my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson, that in Sussex we have a habit of burning an effigy of people who have particularly irritated us. At the moment, those who run Govia Thameslink Railway are at the top of that list, but running a very close second are those responsible for undermining the neighbourhood planning policy, which should be heralded as such a great success for this Government. It was the policy by which power was to be returned to local people, who were to have control over where development went. Decisions taken in neighbourhood plans are entered into by the whole community, having been drawn up by volunteers and then voted on by that community in local referendums. Just as we are now debating nationally the importance of honouring a referendum result, so it gravely undermines democracy locally when decisions taken by local communities can be so easily overridden. I am afraid that is exactly what is happening.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his place. I hope that he will take this message back to his Department. This is like groundhog day: we have had this debate endlessly in this Chamber and on the Floor of the House, and we are constantly told, “Yes, the Government understand the problem and will do something about it.” Indeed, in December 2016 Gavin Barwell, then the excellent Housing Minister and now the Prime Minister’s excellent chief of staff, introduced helpful new guidance precisely designed to deal with the problem, ensuring that neighbourhood plans would be respected and that speculative developers could not win in the way my hon. Friend James Cartlidge has ably described. The problem with that guidance is that it can apply only to neighbourhood plans made up to two years before the date of that guidance, and if local authorities did not have a three-year land supply it did not work at all.
Subsequent to the introduction of those new measures, I have had at least two decisions taken right up to the Planning Inspectorate or the Secretary of State and then lost on appeal because that guidance could not be used. It offered no protection to the local community on those technicalities and the speculative developers won. It is important to underline my hon. Friend’s point: that is not the way to increase house building in this country. We stand united in our desire to increase housing supply, which is a political, economic and social imperative. Everybody gets that, but the whole point is that neighbourhood plans delivered significantly more housing than was anticipated and, best of all, they did it with local consent.
Local communities were brought together and told that they would be given power. They were asked to accept responsibility and they did so, taking difficult decisions, sometimes in the face of strong local opposition, and agreed that development should go in certain places while other places should be protected. Those communities worked on the assumption that what they had been told was true, so those areas were to be protected for the 15-year life of the plan. However, almost within months they see that meant absolutely nothing; the developers could simply charge in.
Worse, those communities were given promises by their local Member of Parliament that everything would be made better by the new guidance, from December 2016, which the Campaign to Protect Rural England, I and hon. Friends who worked on it all said would help. No doubt it has helped in some circumstances, but by no means all, as I indicated. What happens then is support for neighbourhood plans collapses. In West Sussex, I now find it difficult to persuade communities that have not done neighbourhood plans to enter into them. They say, “Look at what happened in the neighbouring village. They went through this process, which costs a lot of money and costs the volunteers a lot of grief. Is it really worth it? The developers come in and simply overrode the plans anyway.”
My right hon. Friend is putting a powerful point to the Minister about the undermining of trust in the system. Does he agree that something else is going on? Where, in my case, the district council agreed to put housing in the right place, down by the main road—the A11 in this case—the developers are banking those permissions for later, because they know that they will get them, and using the five-year land supply to force the wrong development in the wrong places. Not only is trust in the system undermined, but we are getting the wrong development in the wrong places, which is deeply undermining people’s ability to say yes to new housing. It is compounding the problem.
My hon. Friend puts it incredibly well, and I strongly agree. That is why this is so cynical. We have to understand that developers are not just taking advantage of a loophole but gaming the system. As a consequence, I believe we are building fewer houses than we could if developers had to do what policy should require and deliver. I know that my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin has been charged with looking at this, and that is important, but there are changes we could make in the meantime, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk has suggested.
I will make two final points to the Minister. First, the Government are incorporating the guidance they issued in December 2016 into the new national policy framework. Could they look again at the threshold for the three-year land supply and the longevity of the test? Under both those things, the suitability of this as a remedy is being lost. It is not as effective as it should be. Could the Government also look at the wording they are using to incorporate it? It defines “recently brought into force” neighbourhood plans as meaning
“a neighbourhood plan which was passed at referendum two years or less before the date on which the decision is made.”
That is leading some to believe that neighbourhood plans simply fall after two years, which I am sure is not what the Government mean. It would be helpful to clarify that they do not mean that.
Secondly, and more importantly, our policy needs to change and we need to move away from five-year land supplies to delivery as the test. That is the fundamental change that needs to be made if we want to build houses and we wish to do so with public consent. I suggest that is the better way to do it.
I will say first of all that I am fully aware of companies such as Gladman gaming the system. Gladman did exactly the same in my constituency, and I am pleased to say that on one occasion we managed to fight it off and turn it down. The question that my hon. Friend James Cartlidge asked initially was how many councils there are without a five-year land supply. When I have asked that question of the Department, the answer that has come back is that they do not know—they do not collect the information in that format; they do not collect that information at all. My first request is that they start collecting that information, because without it the whole system has a gap in it. What makes that important is that we have changed the way we calculate the housing need for communities. It has been brought down to a much more robust formula, which is having a big effect on communities. This is a suitable opportunity to address the issue full time.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk already mentioned the three-year housing land supply, which is important to bear in mind. I have also asked that it be given permanence and that the arguments that have been made about whether it lasts for two years and whether renewed neighbourhood plans have it for an extra two years be settled. The assurance I have been given is that that is being looked at.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
It is very rare for me to be cut off in the middle of a sentence, so allow me to sum up where I was before the Division bell rang. In relation to the consultation on the national planning policy framework, I have had conversations with members of the Department about the three-year housing land supply figure. The Department is looking at whether that should be permanent, or, if not, how long it should apply for.
The other change that I have called for as part of my work with the local plan expert group is to ensure that we do not continue to lose the millions of pounds that are lost each year through councils having to go to law to defend their five-year land supply. I have suggested that the five-year land supply becomes part of the council’s annual report, and that once it is in there it is not challengeable in the courts for that year. That gives the council a year’s breathing space each year, once the figure is agreed. As for the calculation of the land supply, I am perfectly open to whether it is based on planning permissions or delivery. I can see the logic for it being a calculation based on delivery.
Members have spoken about how neighbourhood plans are delivering about 10% more houses than were predicted. That is actually quite a lot of new houses. There are something like 2,500 communities across the country that are going through or have been through the process of producing a neighbourhood plan. The results of the referendums have been North Korean in style, as was witnessed in the village in which I live, where the approval rate in the referendum was something over 90%. I think that is a great triumph for everyone who was involved in it.
I remain positive about neighbourhood plans. I have been around the country speaking to those involved in them, and if hon. Members want somebody to come and talk about neighbourhood plans, that is the job that I have, and I am happy to do that for any hon. Member who asks me to do so.
On a point of order, Sir Christopher. In the great excitement of commencing my speech, I failed to draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Order. To inform hon. Members of the timings, we will now finish at 6.8 pm, which means that we will start the wind-ups at 5.53 pm. That means that there is time, between now and 5.53 pm, for the four hon. Members who seek to catch my eye.
The simple truth is that our constituents, the public, have no faith whatever left in the planning system. That is hardly a surprise when one is dealing with, to be frank, the rank incompetence of a council such as Leeds City Council. It has created a totally over-inflated housing target figure, which even the academics at Leeds University have claimed simply could not be built in the timeframe laid out, yet in the next couple of weeks we are to go into a public inquiry in which we assess whether Leeds City Council’s site allocations plan is sound. How can something be sound if it is based on fantasy figures?
Leeds City Council has lost almost every single Planning Advisory Service appeal; every time, the PAS comes forward and says, “You don’t have a five-year land supply.” But the figure is being inflated to say that we need tens of thousands more houses than we actually need. It is, therefore, very difficult to come up with the land supply for houses that are never going to be built.
What are the consequences of that? Sites are coming forward to be built on that actually should never been involved. They are the prime sites, where a developer will say, “I’m going to build on that site and get the housing numbers up.” They quite legitimately do not have to build on the brownfield sites, because the council has said, “This is a site you can build on.” The developer then starts to build on that green-belt and greenfield site, and they get far more revenue from that. There is no incentive for them to move elsewhere.
In the past five years, Leeds City Council has granted 25,148 planning permissions. Of those, 4,429 expired—they were not built within the specified timeframe—and only 3,680 were built. Therefore 17,039 remain unbuilt, yet Leeds says that we need to find planning and space for another 70,000 houses.
I realise that the Minister cannot respond to this, but his constituency neighbours mine, and the councils in his constituency, especially Harrogate Borough Council, are planning to build tens of thousands of houses on the border of my constituency. At the moment, Leeds City Council is not taking any notice of that, and it is saying that we need to expand. Councillor Alan Lamb from Wetherby, Councillor Ryan Stephenson from Harewood, and Councillor Matthew Robinson have been at the forefront of fighting back against Leeds City Council, but it is a Labour majority council by quite some margin. Even the independents—I pay tribute to Councillor Mark Dobson, who is an independent in Garforth in my constituency—have been fighting against the Labour council on those numbers, but they just get ridden roughshod over.
We have lost every PAS site appeal in my constituency. The only one left is Scholes. The plan to try to save that PAS site and build somewhere else on the Parlington estate would increase the traffic flow through that village by 300%—that is Leeds City Council’s highways department’s own figure. Even the solutions that Leeds City Council comes out with to try to save a village actually destroy that village by shifting the problem elsewhere.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert. It has to be about how many houses we build, not how many permissions we have. Quite simply, in my constituency alone, almost 75% of the planning permissions have gone unbuilt. How on earth can someone put forward a plan that says, “Actually, Elmet and Rothwell needs another 12,000 houses”, when 75% of the permissions granted have not yet been built? The whole thing needs to be reassessed.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to feed back to his Department that, unless the numbers are accurate, these processes are completely unsound. All we are doing is giving a licence to build on the green belt and greenfield land, rather than tackling brownfield land, which consequently means there is no affordable housing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend James Cartlidge on securing the debate. The problem is country-wide and it affects North East Derbyshire. At times, this debate has seemed like a self-help group where we all put our concerns and difficulties on the table.
We are experiencing similar difficulties in my constituency, because a council has abjectly failed to discharge its responsibilities over several years—more than a decade. Just as my hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke described, that will bring about a plan loaded with too high a number of houses to be built in my part of the world. At the same time, because the five-year housing land supply has only just been put in place, it has caused a significant number of speculative planning developments to be submitted in places that are inappropriate under the plan and objectively inappropriate for people who live in the area and know it best.
Over the past couple of years, North East Derbyshire has experienced 11 separate planning applications in areas that the local plan would not allow to be developed under any other circumstances. Those applications are for more than 1,300 homes. Given that our district has to build only 6,600 homes over a 15 to 20-year timeframe, 1,300 homes that should not have been applied for in the first place represent a significant increase in the number of houses that are needed. The area in the bottom half of my constituency is already slated to take 3,000 new houses that local residents have accepted and, in some ways, embraced, so this is not about nimbyism. It is about houses being built in the wrong place because councils are failing to put in place the right plans and failing to discharge their responsibilities. As a result, we are seeing the loss of greenfield sites and other places where houses would otherwise be considered completely inappropriate.
I draw hon. Members’ attention to two problems with the five-year housing land supply. The first is methodology. My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell made the point about over-inflated numbers. In the same way, my district council did not get the target figure of 280 houses a year right in the first place, and it is now about to replace that with a figure of 332 houses a year, which will further undermine local residents’ confidence that our planning system knows what it is doing.
Despite not having the correct top-line figure, when the council assesses the deliverability of the planning permissions that have been put in place, it talks to the developers themselves, so the developers get a second opportunity to say whether they will build in places where they already have planning permission. That retards the overall five-year housing land supply and gives developers more opportunity to get housing planning permissions through. That methodology is a huge problem.
The second problem is competence. The political leadership in my local council has been thoroughly incompetent in ensuring that North East Derbyshire is protected from inappropriate and speculative housing developments. The authority monitoring report, which my hon. Friend John Howell outlined to some extent, is a publication that appears and disappears at will. The 2014 version appeared a year late—a full year after the council decided it had a 2.15-year housing land supply. The 2015 version did not even appear, and was just amalgamated into a 2015 and 2016 report. Again, that appeared nine months after the number was calculated.
We did not know what our housing land supply was until a special report was taken to the council in October. I am pretty sure, because I spent some of last summer trying to calculate it, that the council knew many months beforehand that it had hit the five-year housing land supply, but it chose not to report or announce it until October. When some planning applications went through, including one on Fanny Avenue, Killamarsh, it was stated that the absence of a five-year housing land supply was at least partly why they were approved.
My council is clearly completely failing, not just on the plan as a whole, but on the five-year housing land supply, and as a result I have to go and talk to residents in Wingerworth, Old Tupton, Ashover, Killamarsh and North Wingfield, where another 250 houses have just been put on a site that should not be developed on, and never has been, because the plan is not in place. That is unacceptable. I support the Government’s localism angle, and I accept that it works in principle, but when councils do not discharge their responsibilities, we reach the point that North East Derbyshire has got to. A huge number of houses are being built, potentially in the wrong places, and the only way to stop them is a huge amount of heartache and angst and huge numbers of planning inquiries.
On the point about councils’ incompetence, Leeds City Council has been heard to say that it simply cannot be bothered to reassess the numbers. It has now moved to a position of saying, “We will assess the numbers after the site allocations plan.” If it reduces the numbers, it makes it even easier to build on the green belt and greenfield land.
My hon. Friend makes a correct and important point.
The only way that we can have any semblance of control over the planning system is by extraordinary displays of public opposition to applications that should never have gone through in the first place. Hundreds of hours of residents’ time are lost on many meetings that should not have to happen. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are allocated to planning inquiries that should never have started. All of that retards confidence in a planning system that is quite rightly trying to deliver the houses we need in this country for the long term. I understand that this is a challenging area, and hon. Members from both sides of the House have outlined why, but when councils do not discharge their responsibilities, we get to the place that North East Derbyshire has got to, which totally undermines the trust and belief that councils and the planning system can deliver.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend James Cartlidge on securing this important debate. I concur with everything he said—in the interests of brevity, I will not repeat his comments. I will use my contribution to give the example of Milton Keynes, our surrounding authorities and indeed the whole Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc, to show why there is an urgent need for much greater flexibility in the five-year supply requirements.
Milton Keynes has over 20,000 housing permissions granted, yet our build-out rate is such that we have recently been judged by the inspector as not having a five-year supply. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and others have suggested, that is the open door for speculative developments, both small and—ironically—large ones. It defies common sense that, if there is an inability to build out existing large developments, developers will have the resources, skills and raw materials to develop new large sites. It just defies logic.
In addition, and as my hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke mentioned, there are neighbouring authorities to consider. Aylesbury Vale District Council, which is next door to Milton Keynes, is planning substantial new developments right on our boundary, which will be technically part of its authority but for all intents and purposes part of the urban footprint of Milton Keynes, using all our infrastructure and services without those being enhanced to take account of the additional population.
Within the whole Oxford-Cambridge corridor, for which I am the Government’s champion, there is a complete misalignment of timescales and objectives. The National Infrastructure Commission has an ambition for 1 million new homes—the Government are yet to publish their formal response to that. This is an area of the country where there is a need for new homes, and in many parts of it there is an appetite for them, but not for homes that are just scattered around the place randomly. They must be properly planned, they must be sympathetic to the existing urban and rural environment, and they must have proper infrastructure and public services.
Yet all the timescales are misaligned. Councils have to make short-term decisions on their housing allocations without knowledge of, for example, where the new Oxford-Cambridge expressway is going to be routed. That does not make sense. So there is an urgent need to realign these timescales, and to pause the current local plan and five-year supply timetables, so as to give a space in which to properly sequence all these decisions.
That is not to say that we do not need houses now; we absolutely do. Many areas in the Oxford-Cambridge corridor have an overheated property market, which is not just pricing people out of living there but is actually inhibiting economic growth, because employers cannot recruit the people they need, because the people they need cannot find a place to live that is affordable or suitably connected.
We have to find a way of accelerating the build-out rate of existing developments. As has been mentioned, my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin will bring forward a range of solutions to the problem, and I urge the Government to implement urgently what he proposes. That would give us the space, if the Government are willing to give some leeway on the targets, to align properly all these decisions that have to be made. People have an appetite for development, but only if the houses are of quality. We need to look not only at overall numbers, but at the types of housing that we build—social housing, houses for the elderly, and traditional, family-sized homes. Much more careful thought and planning needs to go into these long-term developments.
Development must be sympathetic to existing settlements and the rural environment. People will not just accept endless, soulless, identical housing estates being scattered across the countryside. However, we can use our knowledge and expertise in this country to build quality, attractive places that people will actively welcome, which will enhance existing settlements and provide the homes for future generations. That is within our gift, but we have to get away from our current rigid and inflexible system, which does not have public consent. Indeed, it is undermining the whole process of neighbourhood planning and local accountability.
I congratulate my hon. Friend James Cartlidge on securing this important debate and on his thoughtful speech.
Let me take a step back. Why is it that the centre of Government in the UK has felt the need over successive generations—from the planning by appeal of the 1980s, to the regional spatial strategies of the 1990s, to the five-year land supply—to have some vehicle to ensure that councils come up with local plans and that they deliver housing? Why is it that so many people oppose new housing in our country and so many councils oppose what developers come up with?
I think that there are two underlying reasons why people oppose so much new development. First, we build in the wrong places. Too much development is tacked on to the end of existing villages and towns, without the proper infrastructure—the new roads, parking spaces, GP surgeries and school places—that is necessary to support it. There is a terrible example of that in my own constituency on the Gartree Road, where the local Lib Dem-run council has decided to put in its own local plan a proposal for a large site on a road that is already congested, with the proposed houses being pushed right up against existing residents’ homes, when there is no need for that to be the case.
Secondly, there is no benefit or compensation for existing residents who are affected by new development. On Farndon Fields in my constituency, residents have to put up with construction traffic coming past their new homes, as well as dust and noise from the construction site, and there is no pay-off or compensation of any kind for them for putting up with all that.
How can we remedy these underlying reasons why so many of us oppose new development? The first thing we need to do is capture more of the benefits of development for the community. At the moment, only around a quarter of that huge uplift in value that we see when planning permission is granted is captured by the local community, with the overwhelming majority going to the lucky landowner and the developer. Other countries capture far more value from development for the community, which is then ploughed into decent landscaping, greater separation areas, more green space and better infrastructure for the community.
The second thing we need to do is give councils greater discretion over how they spend the revenues they get from the community infrastructure levy and section 106 agreements. Although we capture more value than we did 10 years ago, once we take out the amount that is spent on social and affordable housing, less money is actually being spent now in real terms than 10 years ago on landscaping, community infrastructure and all the things that benefit existing residents. Therefore, let us give councils more discretion over the way they spend those revenues.
Finally, let us make sure that councils have the powers—be it through compulsory purchase order, or through their ability to buy and control land—to do what local councils in other countries in Europe, the US and Asia already do: provide a lead role in assembling and preparing land for development. That is the norm in most of the rest of the world; the UK is unusual in not having that arrangement. That is why a UK council cannot control the speed with which a developer builds out.
In fact, in the UK the one thing that is not up for negotiation is the price paid to the landowner. Everything else can go hang. The amount of social contributions can be pushed down by the developer, and the speed of build-out can be extended over many, many years in order to keep the price up. The only thing that is fixed in our system is the price paid to the landowner. Let us turn the system around and have a more European-style approach to the matter.
As well as doing all those things, let us have a different approach to the way we go about development. In more rural or suburban areas, such as mine, I would love to see more development happening in stand-alone developments, so that we can provide infrastructure and a whole planned approach to a new community, rather than tacking things on and overloading all of our existing villages and towns. Let us build new communities where we will disturb fewer people.
On that point, I share my hon. Friend’s view that when there is the demand to build such huge numbers of homes, there should be a stand-alone community. However, the phrase “stand-alone” must mean stand-alone, and not a community that is dumped in a place, such as the Parlington estate in my constituency, which would have a massive effect on the villages around it? Development needs to be stand-alone.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we are lucky to have with us here today one of the Members for Milton Keynes, because Milton Keynes shows us what proper, planned development can do; it can create nice places that lots of people want to live in.
I would like to see more of the development in this country happening in our cities. Changes such as the development of the modern knowledge-based economy mean that our cities are both where support for new development is highest and where the demand for new development is highest. Let us try to build more in our cities. Let us help inner-city councils build more, by liberalising building up, by giving them devolved powers over public transport, and by giving them the powers to assemble land, in order to unlock fragmented brownfield sites, so that we can actually get more built in our cities. That is how we can have a new approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk is right to raise the issue of the five-year land supply. At the moment we have three tests on local councils: the requirement to have a local plan, the five-year land supply and the new delivery test that will be coming in over the coming year. Effectively, we have a belt and two braces. Of those three tests, the most opaque is the five-year land supply. It is extremely difficult for a council to know whether it has a five-year land supply, and it is extremely easy for developers to game that process and keep councils deliberately below the five-year land supply to stop them getting control over development in their area. It is the weakest of the three existing tests.
I end by agreeing strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk. He said, “It is perfectly reasonable to expect our councils to have a local plan, but how can we impose these tests on them without giving them the tools to control developers, development and where things happen?” The heartbreaking thing in many constituencies is where a council wants to do good development and build a real new community with proper infrastructure and a real heart, or the community has worked for two years to come up with a neighbourhood plan that works for the specific circumstances in that area, and developers come along, game the system and cut off at the knees our local elected representatives and the people who have worked hard to build neighbourhood plans. That is the killer in those situations. There is nothing more corrosive for public support for our current planning system than when we see councils wanting to be brave and do good new development having their good plans cut off at the knees by developers gaming the system.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. It is also a pleasure to bring some gender balance to this debate. I counted 15 men and one woman when we started. I do not know what it is about planning that attracts men more than women, but we need to consider that, because this is such an important subject and it is vital for our communities. Why are there not more people here today?
I am grateful to James Cartlidge for bringing this debate to the Chamber and for giving us early sight of what he was going to say in The Times “Red Box” this morning, which was very helpful. The debate comes at an important moment for local planning policy, as we look towards the Government’s new revised NPPF. Sadly, there is not much time to debate that in much detail. We all agree on the problem, which is that we need to build more homes and that the current systems are not working. Since 2010, home ownership has fallen to a 30-year low, rough sleeping has doubled and the number of new homes being built has still not recovered to pre-recession levels. We know that it is not just politicians who want to build more homes, because public opinion has shifted in recent years. The public now do not just support more homes; they support more homes in their local area and more council and affordable housing in their local area. We have the public’s support when it comes to building.
We know that the planning system is not currently working. Members have already mentioned the lack of trust in the planning system, which is significant. I have it in my constituency. The number of homes that have not been built despite receiving planning permission soared last year, as has been said. Sites for hundreds of thousands of new properties are being left undeveloped. In February this year the Local Government Association published an analysis that showed that more than 400,000 homes were granted permission in 2017 but were still waiting to be built. That is a huge number and a rise of 16% since 2016. More than a quarter of authorities with a local plan cannot demonstrate an adequate five-year land supply, and 61 local authorities lost an appeal in the year to April 2018 due to not having a five-year land supply. Under the new NPPF, the conditions on authorities will become tighter. The five-year land supply requirement will be combined with the need for a local plan and a new housing delivery test.
In a recent analysis, Savills projected that 110 local authorities will fail on two or more of those required measures by 2019. Those local authorities account for 37% of national housing need and risk losing control of where and what housing development will take place in their areas. The hon. Gentleman raises a problem that we all accept, and the evidence bears out his argument. When vague national policy takes precedence over local priorities with this presumption in favour of sustainable development, it entrenches a bias in favour of speculative developers. That does not just cause an issue for communities that are sidelined in the planning process; it threatens to sideline any significant affordable housing in those areas, too. We see more slow build-out from developers and an inability for councils to influence that—councils have no levers to pull.
We agree on the problems, but we perhaps disagree on some of the solutions. We want more homes to be built—particularly affordable homes—but measuring councils on build-out rates rather than permissions will not necessarily help. As hon. Members said, if developers are gaming the system, do we not have to change the system? Should we not instead focus on giving councils the mechanisms to ensure that homes are built once planning permission is given, and to guarantee that affordable homes are part of that equation, which is a particular issue for the Opposition? That is one of the big problems with the proposed NPPF.
It is vital that, once local need for affordable housing has been properly assessed, mechanisms are in place to ensure that it is delivered. We would introduce a “use it or lose it” policy for permissioned but unbuilt sites and a new duty to deliver affordable homes, linked to a better measure of local need for affordable housing. We would establish an English sovereign land trust to work with local authorities to enable more proactive buying of land at a price closer to existing use value. As part of that, we would consider changing the rules governing the compensation paid to landowners.
We would introduce a presumption that there is no development without affordable housing, and a Labour Government would lift council housing borrowing caps to their prudential limits to kick-start the highest level of council house building in 30 years. Finally, we would remove the viability loophole that allows developers to dodge affordable housing obligations, and we would consider a range of wider reforms to overhaul the system.
I could say so much about quality, infrastructure, design and need, but we do not have time, so I conclude by saying that it is clear that we in this place and the wider population agree that we need more homes. I urge the Government, after eight years at the helm, to consider creating the climate and the local levers for that to happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Sir Christopher, for the first time in this hot seat. It is also a great pleasure to have listened to some fantastic contributions from colleagues from across the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend James Cartlidge. Everyone who has contributed to the debate has been an outstanding champion for their local area. It was heartening to hear so many passionate speeches from right hon. and hon. Members. Before I respond to some of the points made, I thank my hon. Friend for his continuing work to raise such important issues. He has great knowledge of the area and has spent many years of his professional life in the sector. I also read his well-informed “Red Box” piece in The Times today.
Many years before I was elected—before I had even considered going into politics—I asked the Member of Parliament for Selby at the time, the late Michael Alison, “What takes up most of your time?” He told me about the various issues, and I asked, “What about planning?” He said, “Planning is simple—I ignore it, don’t get involved in it and leave it to the council. That’s the way forward.” Times have changed a bit, because I think we can all agree that planning takes up an enormous amount of our time in this day and age.
I should point out that the Secretary of State, as Members know, has a quasi-judicial role in the planning system. I am sure everyone understands that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the detail of individual decisions or plans, but I can talk about the issues that have been raised more broadly. I will set out our national policy aims and then speak more generally about the technical points of each case. I just need a steer on when I am meant to be finished by, following the 25-minute suspension.
I have about nine minutes left—that is about right. My thanks go to a great Parliamentary Private Secretary.
Issues with the current five-year land supply model and slow build-out were a key feature of the housing White Paper. The Government are seeking to address that through a package of reforms to the planning system, including revising the national planning policy framework, which will be published this summer. The review of the NPPF is fundamental to delivering the 300,000 homes a year we need, and sets out a comprehensive approach to ensure that we get the right homes, built in the right places and to the right quality.
The revised framework implements around 80 reforms that were announced last year, and retains the emphasis on development that is both sustainable and locally led. Those changes include clearer expectations of local authorities and developers to deliver their commitment to unlock land, fulfil planning permissions, provide essential infrastructure, and ensure that homes are built to meet the diverse needs and expectations of communities. The measures include a standardised way of assessing local housing need; reforming the plan-making system to ensure that every part of the country produces, maintains and implements an up-to-date plan; and an opportunity for local authorities to have their five-year housing land supply agreed on an annual basis. The last two points are particularly relevant to today’s important debate.
It is important that local authorities plan effectively for the new housing required in their areas. Ultimately, new homes need to be provided through up-to-date local plans, produced in consultation with local people. Up-to-date plans, produced in consultation with communities, are a vital element of the planning system. They are the starting point for planning decisions by planning authorities and inspectors. I welcome the progress that Babergh District Council, working with Mid Suffolk District Council, has made with their local plan preparations. I understand that the local authorities are aiming to submit them for examination by the Planning Inspectorate in spring next year.
It is important that adequate land is available to build the homes we need. Local authorities play their part by producing up-to-date local plans and identifying a five-year supply of housing sites. That provides clarity to local communities and developers about where homes should be built so that development is planned rather than the result of speculative applications. Every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber will have had experience of that. I have great sympathy with communities that feel that they have no control over planning, and nobody wants to see companies overtly gaming the system. However, we need more homes, and that is why communities should consider a neighbourhood plan—championed by many right hon. and hon. Members here today—to give them more control over the issue.
Demonstrating a deliverable pipeline of housing sites has been a long-standing Government policy. Since the existing NPPF was introduced in 2012, local planning authorities have been asked to identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites, and to demonstrate a five-year land supply. Where the local authority cannot demonstrate that, the lack of supply means that plan policies are not considered to be up-to-date, and applications are assessed against the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
However, the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not, and should not, mean development at all costs. Any adverse impacts of the development will still need to be taken into account. The housing White Paper acknowledged that the current policy has been effective in bringing forward more permissions but has had some negative effects, as we have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk. In response, we have proposed reforms to how land supply is calculated. The draft revised NPPF includes proposals to allow local authorities to agree their five-year housing land supply position on an annual basis and to fix it for a one-year period. The Department believes that taking up that opportunity should reduce the number and complexity of appeals, and provide greater certainty to all parties.
The Minister is making a fantastic speech. I am glad he has reached that point about appeals, because it seems to me very welcome that once someone has the five-year land supply and it has been signed off, they then have 12 months of security. At the moment, as soon as a council says, “We’ve got the five-year land supply,” there can be an immediate appeal by a developer and the certainty goes away. The issue therefore arises with councils that do not yet have the five-year land supply and do not have that security, but are giving many permissions. Can there be greater flexibility on that, as my hon. Friend Iain Stewart suggested?
My hon. Friend raises a valid point. We are hopeful that that will go a long way to eradicating some of the issues that he and right hon. and hon. Members have experienced. The idea is that it can be fixed at a one-year period. We will also see what other reforms are proposed as part of the review that my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin is planning.
It is worth mentioning that in return for being allowed to agree their five-year housing land supply position on an annual basis and to fix it for a one-year period, local authorities will need to be more realistic in planning to meet housing needs. The draft NPPF includes further clarity on how to calculate five-year land supply, and we intend to provide further guidance to support local authorities in their role.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk has concerns about the time that it takes to build homes after sites are identified and permission is granted. The Government want homes to be built faster, and expect house builders to deliver more homes, more quickly and to a high standard. However, as my hon. Friend mentioned, it is important to recognise that after planning permission for new homes is granted, a variety of factors can prevent development from starting and can slow down delivery.
Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset was commissioned to examine what can be done to speed up building on major sites. The review has been looking into the build-out of sites that have been granted planning permission. The aim is to close the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land permissioned for new homes. The initial analysis, which was published last month, has presented some interesting findings on the delays in building out large sites and what helps to speed up build-out rates. I look forward to reading the final report, which is due in the autumn.
Coming on to the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk talked about local communities not having a say on speculative development. Applications for speculative development are still subject to local consultation, as are all planning applications. He also mentioned, as others did, that existing permissions are not being taken into account. The draft NPPF encourages the use of shorter timescales for starting development before the permission will expire, to encourage developers to build the permitted homes more quickly.
Dr Drew, who is flying the flag brilliantly for Her Majesty’s Opposition, talked about viability assessments. We recognise those concerns and, again, the draft NPPF includes new policies on viability assessments. My right hon. Friend Nick Herbert talked about burning effigies at the start of his speech; that was slightly worrying, as I live in York, where Guy Fawkes was from. I hope my right hon. Friend takes that into account. Neighbourhood planning protection was included in the draft NPPF. We consulted on the draft wording, and I thank him for his continued work and suggestions in this area. We are considering those responses and will publish the final NPPF in the summer.
My hon. Friend Scott Mann, who I cannot see in his place, talked about what we are doing to encourage small developers. We need to support small and medium house builders and bring forward a greater variety of sites. My hon. Friend John Howell, who does a fantastic job as the champion of neighbourhood plans, said that the Government do not know how many authorities have a five-year land supply. Guidance is being produced to advise local planning authorities on how to publish their supply figure, so it will be publicly accessible.
I thank and pay tribute to Councillors Lamb and Stephenson, the hard-working councillors of my hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke, who continue to fight for their local communities but appear to be being ignored by their local council, Leeds City Council. I hope that Leeds will have heard today’s debate and my hon. Friend’s excellent contribution. My hon. Friend Lee Rowley talked about the reporting of a five-year land supply. Alongside the—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (