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Mel Stride

Building the homes of the Future means giving Power to the People

Thu 3 Dec 2009

By Mel Stride
...building the homes of the Future means giving Power to the People.

I believe that housing should be one of the biggest issues at the next General Election. Firstly because many don't have a decent roof over their heads, secondly because affordable housing is such an acute problem in the South West and thirdly because we need to move on from a ‘pro-cyclical' property market in which house prices don't just follow the economic cycle but actually drive the cycle itself and contribute directly to boom and bust.
Key to resolving these issues is getting house building moving. This is especially critical given the ever-increasing demand driven by people living longer, depressing levels of family breakdown and undesirable levels of net immigration. The current government likes to trumpet new aspirations and a year ago pledged 3 million new homes by 2020. The problem is that their performance does not match their rhetoric. Apart from 2008, in each of the last 12 years this government has failed to equal even the lowest annual level of new build social rented housing under the last Conservative administration. Not good when nationally we have around 5 million on housing waiting lists and in Devon the waiting list for affordable housing has increased by 47% last year with an average house costing £238,000 or 14.2 times average local income.

One of the reasons often sited for this supply failure is NIMBYism with people in favour of new housing as long as it isn't in their own back yard. I believe the main reason for this is that in Labour's new world order, communities are being faced by "command and control", top-down building targets thrust upon them with insufficient local consultation let alone consent. Development targets cascade down through RDAs (unelected quangos) via Regional Spatial Strategies and inexorably on into local authority Local Development Frameworks. Often the result is that large swathes of new development are assigned to local communities in a location and of a scale that is wholly unacceptable to local people. Okehampton (within the Central Devon constituency) is a case in point. 1,400 new homes are currently planned for a town that is little larger than Bovey Tracey. This level of development will bring to Okehampton the problems of insufficient infrastructure and congestion and it will radically change the whole nature of what is currently a small market town with a tightly knit community right on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Communities like Okehampton are suffering throughout the country and it is little wonder that the government's plans are now stumbling as a result of legal challenge (e.g. The East of England Plan).
So how can we ensure that new house building meets with the consent and indeed active encouragement of local people? The answer lies, I believe, in turning the planning process on its head. We need to scrap the top-down diktat and truly incentivise and trust local communities with development planning. The Conservatives' Green Paper on housing outlines some exciting proposals that push firmly in this localist direction. In it we set out a vision in which local communities would clearly and directly benefit from development in their area; for example by receiving six years' worth of matched council tax proceeds for new builds (with perhaps even more generous paybacks to support affordable housing in areas where waiting lists represent a particularly high proportion of the local population). We propose a radical shift of planning control right down to local communities; for example through the setting up of Local Housing Trusts which will be able to build new homes whilst effectively side-stepping the planning controls of the local authority in cases where at least 90% of local residents are supportive. In this way many smaller local communities that might need development to ensure the sustainability of local services such as schools, GP surgeries or their local post office will be trusted to take charge of their own destiny. We also propose a step-change in our attitude to affordable housing by promoting Community Land Trusts whereby land that might never otherwise receive planning consent can be donated or provided cheaply to a trust so allowing affordable homes to be built at low cost. The trust also allowing the properties to be subject to covenants so that they remain affordable and always in the ownership of local people.
This approach is in a place far away from the trumpeting of targets, distant from the scratch of the bureaucratic pen and a league away from the bewildered rage of the very many local people who feel they are too often left unheard. In the vital area of housing it is nothing short of giving power back to the people. It deserves a chance.

Other columns by Mel Stride

Busy right across the constituency - Tue 9 Nov 2021
Investing in local public services - Mon 2 Aug 2021
Corona - A year on - Mon 14 Jun 2021
Supporting our Local Communities in difficult times - Mon 1 Mar 2021
The PM’s first year - Thu 1 Oct 2020
Quizzing the PM - Tue 7 Jul 2020
It’s the economy, stupid! - Tue 11 Feb 2020
Vision for the Future - Mon 2 Dec 2019
Into the Cabinet - Thu 1 Aug 2019
Local Apprenticeships Matter - Fri 3 May 2019
Huge shot in the arm for our High Streets - Thu 24 Jan 2019
Reading - Thu 8 Nov 2018
EU - In or Out? - Mon 11 Mar 2013
Opportunity. - Tue 22 Jan 2013
Where do we begin? - Tue 13 Nov 2012
To Infinity and Beyond - Wed 5 Sep 2012
Working in Westminster - Sun 1 Jul 2012
A Better Balance - Thu 5 Jan 2012
Capital Shame - Mon 7 Nov 2011
Olympic Feat... - Sun 11 Sep 2011
The Coalition - A year on - Mon 11 Jul 2011
Labour Dreams - Sun 17 Apr 2011
Now we really must mean Business - Thu 10 Mar 2011
Freedom and Responsibility - Sun 9 Jan 2011
A leader for Labour - Thu 4 Nov 2010
Education and Freedom - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Tradition and Words - Mon 6 Sep 2010
Mel Stride - Early Days in Westminster - Tue 6 Jul 2010
Mel Stride Conservative Parliamentary Candidate on The Big Society - Mon 3 May 2010
A look back over my years as Conservative parliamentary candidate and contributor to The Cottage - Sun 28 Feb 2010
Early memories... - Wed 4 Nov 2009
As General Franco lay dying... - Tue 20 Oct 2009

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