CPRE is calling for a Housing White Paper that boosts necessary housebuilding without causing preventable loss of countryside*
The Government’s forthcoming White Paper on housing, expected in January, is a golden opportunity to tackle England's complex housing crisis. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) agrees with Ministers that we can and should boost housebuilding above the current level of 190,000 houses per year. But this should not, and must not, come at the expense of other Government commitments to maintain protection of our precious countryside, including Green Belts, protected landscapes, and other open countryside.
To meet England’s real housing need while protecting the countryside, CPRE calls for a Housing White Paper that guarantees:
- Housing targets that are realistic and plan to meet need before demand
- Brownfield first: brownfield sites are prioritised, and then make the best use of both brownfield and greenfield sites through appropriately compact mixed-use development
- The permanence of Green Belt protection is maintained to ensure it meets its stated aims
Housing targets that are realistic and plan to meet need before demand
The current approach to setting housing requirements results in local authorities being pushed to set unachievably high housing numbers that are neither realistic - based on the actual housing need of communities, in type, tenure, quantity and affordability - nor deliverable, based on the building industry’s ability to deliver houses and other constraints.
CPRE is concerned that the Government will recommend setting even higher housing targets in areas of high demand in response to 'market signals'. Further inflated and unachievable targets for local authorities will inevitably be missed because of a lack of supporting public funding, and councils will then be forced to release more land, with developers able to ‘cherry pick’ the most profitable greenfield sites, rather than brownfield sites or sites that are supported by local communities. The impact of this is likely to be most acutely felt in the villages and small towns of the south and south east.
Rural areas are in urgent need of more new affordable housing for rent or shared ownership. The gap between house prices and average incomes is greatest in these areas, and yet 2015 saw the lowest level of affordable housing completions for 24 years. We need targeted investment in social housing in these areas and more encouragement for community-led schemes. Housebuilding targets should also be firmly based on what is realistically achievable given the availability of finance, and supporting infrastructure such as schools and public transport, and trends of development.
Brownfield first: brownfield sites are prioritised, and then make the best use of both brownfield and greenfield sites through appropriately compact mixed-use development
New policies and funding measures are needed to get brownfield sites developed ahead of greenfield sites. Focusing development on brownfield sites not only helps to protect the countryside, with all the benefits for the environment, for food production and for people’s general wellbeing that this implies; it also addresses the derelict, vacant and under-used sites in our cities, towns and villages, that blight people’s lives with pollution and anti-social behaviour and drain the vitality from local economies. CPRE analysis of pilot ‘brownfield registers’, introduced in 2015, found an 11% increase in housing potential on brownfield (previously developed) land. If the same increase holds across all England then there is potential for at least 1.1 million new houses on brownfield sites.
We should also do more to encourage well-designed, higher density development in towns and cities with good public transport. Both these measures will result in precious countryside, including the Green Belt, being better protected.
The permanence of Green Belt protection is maintained to ensure it meets its stated aims
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that 'the Government attaches great importance to Green Belts' and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid has stated that the Green Belt is ‘sacrosanct’. These commitments are not matched on the ground.
Since 2012 local authorities have increasingly reviewed Green Belt boundaries to accommodate increased levels of housing development. In March 2016 CPRE found that 275,000 houses are proposed on land to be removed from the Green Belt, a near doubling on the 147,000 in the draft regional plans in 2009. The provision in the NPPF allowing Green Belt boundary reviews in ‘exceptional circumstances, through a review of the Local Plan’ is a major loophole that needs to be tightened. Both housing demand and economic growth aspirations are constants; by definition there is nothing ‘exceptional’ about them.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, says:
'There is a growing consensus both on the need for much more housing and on how to deliver it. The Government has a chance to get the whole nation behind a housebuilding programme that is based on sound planning principles, with a focus on affordability, brownfield land and sustainable housing densities.
'There have been positive statements by Ministers on the need to open up the housing market rather than relying on a few big house builders; on the need to get big developers building, rather than land banking; and on the need to fund planning departments adequately.
“So far, so good. But if the Housing White Paper is to have any credibility with countryside campaigners, it must address the main failing of the current system – undeliverable housing targets which lead to acrimonious planning conflicts without increasing the overall number of homes built.
'Villages and small towns across England are being besieged by multiple planning applications that pay no heed to sustainability or real need. All the evidence is that if you work with communities, they will get behind necessary development, but if you seek to impose it on them, they will fight it.
'We need realistic and deliverable housing targets that meet local need across the country. And then we need to get on with building the homes the country needs.'
*Updated: 16 December 2016