Planning Permission and Housing Need: Wealden

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 1st March 2022.

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Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden 11:00 am, 1st March 2022

The ONS data is the crux of the problem that we need to resolve. If the population growth is not as it has been tracked, then we need to re-evaluate the numbers that local authorities have to set their targets to, so I agree with my colleague. Hopefully, we will continue to meet every Tuesday to hash out planning for the foreseeable seven years as well.

I will now turn to infrastructure, which does not neatly sit within the Minister’s Department, but I wish him to understand the pressure that the district is under. The scale of growth that the Government are asking for has to be accompanied by meaningful infrastructure funding, which also helps alleviate the pressure from new homes arriving in any area. We have major road arteries such as the A22, A26 and A27 connecting Wealden to the rest of the south-east, and they are in dire need of upgrades.

Our rail network is similar: I look forward to the Minister visiting Wealden, when he may have the joy of travelling on the Uckfield line—if he googles it, he can just google the “misery line”. Let me explain why: it is unreliable, and it is a real dinosaur. It operates one of the country’s last diesel trains on a single track. It is completely unfit for this day and age, and it is already under pressure before the new homes have arrived. I am told that it is the most polluting line in the country; I have yet to check that figure, but we desperately need it to be electrified, and I will continue to campaign for that.

As my neighbour the hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has mentioned, there are concerns about healthcare and dental care provision. We have a particular aging population, and because of the area we are in, we also have pressure on sewerage and water. We need greater broadband and of course we always need greater transport investment as well.

As I have mentioned to the Minister, after seven long years of meetings, it would be good to try to get to a point where everybody is comfortable. We were really pleased that we were able to host a meeting with the Secretary of State last year to make sure that Wealden District Council was given the support it needed in putting together its plan. We want its plan to pass and to be successful. I would not be able to represent Wealden today without the support I receive from the district council leader, Bob Standley; the deputy leader for planning, Ann Newton; the chief executive officer of Wealden District Council, Trevor Scott; and all the fantastic councillors.

It is not just Wealden or our county: a lot of councillors are under huge pressure to deliver to meet the housing need, given the stress that it creates in local communities. Ann Newton in particular has received a lot of unnecessary abuse for just being the public servant trying to deliver for East Sussex.

These are my asks of the Minister: first, let us make housing targets advisory, not mandatory. Let us link Government funding, whether the towns fund, school funding, infrastructure, jobs and healthcare, to councils that build homes. Let us incentivise them; let us adapt the proposed infrastructure levy to ensure that infrastructure is provided before homes are built—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne.

Let us help last-time buyers, as well as first-time buyers, by examining measures to encourage elderly homeowners to downsize by providing a stamp duty exemption or reduction. Let us reduce rates on the top end of stamp duty. People cannot afford to move when their circumstances change, because they simply cannot afford the stamp duty. Let us outlaw gazumping. Let us improve schemes to help housing associations, and Wealden Council, which has its own housing company, to develop and build bungalows. Let us have “use it or lose it” planning permissions. Let us prioritise low-carbon house building.

Lastly, and mostly importantly for Wealden, let us adapt current rules to fix situations where a council has given planning permission for sites that are not developed, but the council then faces Government censure when developers are at fault for refusing to build out those permissions. Let us include permissions granted for new homes in the housing number allocations. As mentioned, Wealden District Council has given 7,600 permissions for new homes; they have not all been built yet, but they are on their way. Will the Minister ensure that those are not only allocated within overall targets but go towards the overall five-year land supply, as well?

Those are a lot of asks for the Minister, but it is incredibly important for Wealden to get this right. It is the last Conservative council in the county and we are keen to build—properly and in an environmentally friendly way—homes that people want to move into. We can do that only with the support of the Minister, and I look forward to welcoming him to my constituency.