8 October 2020
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calls on Government to change housing target algorithm

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calls for a change to the algorithm the Government uses in its planning White Paper which fails to take account of local variations and concentrates all new house building in the south-east and central south of England.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I hope the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who I thank for listening to my concerns, will forgive me if I do not praise the good bits in his White Paper because I do not have time to do so.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, the real flaw in the White Paper is that all it does is concentrate building in the south-east and central south of England, and does not use the Prime Minister’s wish to build more infrastructure to level up the rest of the country. It is really important that a planning system is led by a well-executed local plan. National designations under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, such as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and green belt, must be respected. I understand the Government’s desire to increase housing numbers. A formula or algorithm, if correctly designed, will always achieve that. However, it is a very blunt instrument that does not take into account any local variations.

There is a particular concern about the proposals, which deal with housing needs and requirements, between the housing numbers in the planning White Paper and the algorithm in the change in the planning system consultation. The Cotswolds is 80% AONB and the current local plan requirement is 420 houses. The proposed standard method would deliver a staggering 1,209—a 188% increase. If every area had a 188% increase, the Government would hugely overrun their targets. The current formula will certainly increase the numbers, but will not necessarily improve affordability. It is fundamentally wrong to automatically assume that affordability will be solved in areas of housing demand. It is the housing mix, not housing numbers, that is really important. In my area, what we need are small one and two-bedroom flats to meet the aspirations of first-time buyers, the young and the old. As was so ably said by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), if we stripped out those people who live in the Cotswolds but who do not actually work in the Cotswolds, both housing prices and average salaries would come down immeasurably and we would be nearer the average on affordability.

The current proposals need to be looked at seriously. The present proposals would so radically alter a very special area like the Cotswolds, which the planning system to date has so successfully protected, that future generations and visitors alike would not be able to visit the area and see why it is so special.