Dr Liam Fox MP:
Since 1996, 22,317 houses have been built in North Somerset compared with a target of 24,687, which shows that this is not a nimby district. However, as many colleagues will recognise, the overall figures hide enormous variability. During the years when the town of Portishead, a triumph of regeneration, was growing, we exceeded our targets by some way. Taking the period as a whole, targets were exceeded in seven years but missed in 18 years. That is a very good reason for housing planning to be considered over longer periods. Five-year housing land supply measures are nonsensical and should be dropped.
But these figures show the effect of two important factors which need to be tackled in this legislation. The first is the conflicting signals given by central Government to local authorities on planning priorities. While overall housing target numbers are given, there are simultaneous restrictions being put in place. In North Somerset, the land area is 40% green belt, 30% flood zone and 15% area of outstanding natural beauty. In my discussion with the Secretary of State, he made clear he hoped the Planning Inspectorate would take account of local authorities that had tried to balance these conflicting and sometimes contradictory factors when it comes to housing targets, but we have to go much further. We need to furnish local authorities with a clear mechanism to net off the proportion of their land covered by things such as green belt, floodplain and AONB so that more realistic housing targets can be set, reflecting more accurately the availability of land in any one locality.
The second issue we need to tackle is land banking and build-out, which creates a Catch-22 for local authorities. Developers are given permission to build, but they do not do so. They then complain to the Planning Inspectorate that the local authority needs to give more land for housing, which creates a huge amount of uncertainty for local residents and even planning blight, but it helps to fill the developers’ pockets.
I will not give way because so many colleagues want to take part.
The next issue is the green belt. The current framework has stood the test of time and represents a good balance between the values represented by green-belt policy and the need for some unavoidable development to meet local need. The village in which I live has seen two examples of redevelopment and infilling, which represents small and more acceptable development much better than the huge housing estates we have seen in other towns such as Backwell, Nailsea and Yatton in my constituency.
That brings me to my brief final point. We need to see more small developers coming into the housing market to provide much-needed competition and flexibility. I would like the Government to consider whether we can make it easier to have small developments of perhaps 30 to 40 houses, which would be much more attractive to small, new, innovative builders and much less attractive to the current dominant players in the housing market. As a matter of policy, we should introduce competition into the house building market. After all, if I remember correctly, we are a Conservative Government.