Last Friday I met the Chairman and Chief Executive of Saxon Weald, the housing association which provides affordable homes for rent and for sale locally.
We discussed housing and planning policy which has been in the news again this week. The Government agreed to re-think its plan to allow home extensions without planning permission after many MPs – including me – expressed concern about it.
We clearly need more affordable housing, including locally, and the number of houses being built remains very low. But this is because of the market. It is a mistake to believe that weakening the planning laws which protect the countryside will of itself get more houses built.
The good news is that the South East Plan, with its top down regional housing targets, has now been scrapped, and local authorities can now shape their own plans. Recently Mid-Sussex District Council published its local plan with a much more realistic housing target. This is successful localism, enabled by the Government’s policy.
As I’ve said before, we need to ensure that new housing is sustainable – at the right level, with adequate infrastructure, and protecting the countryside so far as possible.
The National House Building Council recently said that the Arundel and South Downs constituency had 177 new housing starts last year, compared to a national average of 142. This means that we already have 25 per cent more locally than national average.
Of course, we cannot simply say no to every new housing project. I am very concerned about young people being unable to get their foot onto even the first rung of the property ladder.
That’s why the Chancellor’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, announced in the Budget, was so significant. It will help new buyers with a deposit for their homes.
This week I was honoured to attend the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. One of her most memorable and important policies was enabling people to buy their council houses.
She created a new generation of property owners, meeting the aspirations of people who work hard and want to get on.
We have to find a way, through reform of the planning system, to protect our countryside and villages while ensuring that young people can afford to buy.
That doesn’t mean piecemeal relaxation of the planning laws. It means giving communities responsibility for these decisions, recognising that the old top-down housing targets built nothing but resentment.
If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at email@example.com