Chairman of the Lincolnshire branch of CPRE TIM MACHIN considers RURAL MATTERS . . .
The Government is pushing hard to deliver its target of 250,000 new homes each year. The population is growing by about half a million a year through natural growth and net migration, but new housebuilding is not keeping up even with that figure, let alone decades of backlog.
Successive governments have failed to find a solution to the ongoing housing crisis and are quick to blame anyone but themselves for poor building performance.
Tinkering with the planning system to make it easier to get planning permission and harder for communities to object, threatening developers who don’t deliver on the land they have bought, incentivising local councils and housing associations with grants to build and now attempting to shift the blame on to councils all together for the failure of developers to build at a fast enough rate.
In this rising panic to build, the tempting outcome is to put new homes where it is easiest to do so. That is, a green field on the edge of a village or town that can provide the essential services - a shop, school, doctor’s surgery - newcomers will need.
Last week, the Prime Minister spoke about further changes to the planning system to make it even easier to build new homes or extend existing ones. A consultation on the proposed National Planning Policy Framework started on March 5.
She also attacked local authorities for failing to do enough to deliver houses in their areas, even though councils have largely been prevented from building new homes since the time of Margaret Thatcher.
This in the context that there are sites with planning permission for well over 400,000 unbuilt homes - but it is developers who control them, not local authorities.
Back in the 1970s, affordable housing was being built at the rate of around 175,000 a year, with a similar number of private homes. Now, total house-building is half what it was then and relative housing costs are much higher.
The East Midlands is one of the cheapest areas of the country to live, but first time buyers still need a mortgage six times average income to get on the first rung of the housing ladder, plus a deposit of about £20,000 and average rental costs for those who can’t afford or don’t want to buy swallow up 40 per cent of take home pay.
If it is necessary to extend our towns and villages out into the surrounding countryside, at least let us make sure a decent proportion of that new housing is affordable to local people. Affordable housing enables families with children to stay in our rural communities; families spend their disposable income in local shops and maintain the need for local schools and other essential services.
Our children and grandchildren need good quality housing at a price they can afford in a place they want to live. The sad fact is that without affordable housing they will be priced out of the market.
Research published last week by CPRE and Shelter has shown that, as a result of further government tinkering, developers are escaping the requirement to build affordable housing by exploiting a loophole in the government’s planning rules.
Since 2012, when changes were introduced, many developers have been able to successfully argue that the provision of affordable housing on their developments would make their overall scheme unviable, reducing profits below 20 per cent, thereby avoiding the need to meet the requirement.
The CPRE campaigns for a beautiful living countryside. The countryside needs people and jobs and rural communities are an integral part of the countryside.
Those communities need to grow but need to do so sustainably. We need a planning system that ensures the right homes are built in the right places, rather than the free for all that is beginning to emerge in the rush to build.