Oral statement to Parliament

Housing and growth

Statement by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on housing and growth.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Lord Pickles

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on housing and planning:

  • the coalition government inherited a legacy where house building had fallen to its lowest rates since the 1920s
  • a top-down planning system that built nothing but resentment
  • a regime of regional planning quangos that created paralysis and confrontation - after 6 years of preparation, by the general election, less than 60 councils had completed local plans

The result was no development. No regeneration. No community benefits.

This government wants to get the economy growing.

To remove unnecessary red tape.

To support locally led sustainable development.

In November, the government published a comprehensive housing strategy to support a thriving, active and stable housing market.

In March, we published a National Planning Policy Framework to condense 1,000 pages of central planning guidance to just 50.

Housebuilding is up: 29% higher in 2011 than in 2009. But there is more to do.

So today, my department is announcing a further series of common sense measures to promote house building and support locally-led economic growth.

The technical details are laid out in a written statement which has been laid before the House. I will summarise the key points for Hon Members:

  • following on from Sir Adrian Montague’s independent report (PDF 272 KB) on supporting the private rented sector, we are providing £200 million of new funding to support institutional investment in high-quality rented homes
  • thanks to the action we have taken to tackle the last government’s deficit, we are passing on the lower costs of borrowing. We will be issuing a debt guarantee for up to £10 billion to support private investment in the private rented sector and in new affordable housing
  • we will support up to an additional 15,000 affordable homes through the use of loan guarantees, flexibilities and capital funding
  • we also intend to extend our successful refurbishment programme to bring an additional 5,000 existing empty homes back into use. The last government wanted to demolish Victorian terraces with John Prescott’s Pathfinder programme. By contrast, we are getting homes back into productive use
  • in total we will invest another £300 million in these measures to support new affordable homes and bring empty homes into use
  • we actively want to support home ownership, which fell under the last Parliament despite a Labour pledge to increase it by a million
  • we are extending our successful FirstBuy scheme for first time buyers, with an additional £280 million of funding, helping up to 16,500 additional first-time buyers to purchase a home
  • to free up more brownfield land for development and regeneration, we will accelerate the release of surplus public sector land and empty offices through a targeted programme of transfers from other government bodies
  • we will work with local authorities and developers to unlock locally supported large sites. Just last week, we were back to unblock the Eastern Quarry in the Ebbsfleet Valley - a major ex-industrial site that had stalled for a decade

We are working with local communities and councils. But some councils need to raise their game, by failing to make planning decisions in a timely way. Planning delays create uncertainty both for local residents and local firms. So we will introduce a series of practical measures to help speed up planning decisions and appeals, and major infrastructure.

Some complex developments take time to assemble. So we are allowing for developers to extend the duration of existing planning permissions.

We are making it easier for developers to change unrealistic Section 106 agreements. A development which isn’t built means no Section 106 payments. Common sense reforms will result in more regeneration, more housing and more community benefits.

Sustainable development should go hand in hand with environmental safeguards.

I can confirm that we have protected the Green Belt, in line with our commitment in the coalition agreement.

It has always the case that councils can amend local Green Belt boundaries should they wish - and we will support councils which choose to. This can include introducing new Green Belt protection around new large developments.

There is considerable previously developed land in many Green Belt areas. We encourage councils to make best use of this land, whilst protecting the openness of the Green Belt in line with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework.

If we are to protect our countryside, we need to focus more growth in our town centres. So we are introducing measures to make it easier to turn empty commercial buildings into housing. Our high streets will benefit from a greater resident population, increasing footfall and supporting local shops.

As a nation, we have great pride in our homes. We want to make it easier for families to undertake home improvements - such as building a new conservatory. So we will be seeking to simplify and increase permitted development rights for householders. Cutting back municipal red tape in this way could provide a particular boost for small traders and small builders.

Mr Speaker, these practical measures build on the housing, local government finance and planning reforms already in play.

Giving more power to individuals, to communities, to councils.

Providing new incentives to support local shops, local firms and local economic growth.

Delivering sustainable development and getting Britain building.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 6 September 2012