Local authorities and communities should plan for sustainable development in their area, taking a visionary and strategic approach to be responsive to the market using robust evidence of the number of homes required.
Across England, developers seem to be taking advantage of what they believe to be a policy vacuum to press ahead with large-scale planning applications. In my area for example, there are applications for 5,000 homes around Chippenham, the whole of Swindon seems to be moving westward to engulf some of the villages there, and there are applications for 280 homes in Malmesbury. Does the Minister agree that local people should decide how many houses they want and where they should be, taking account of homelessness and all that of course, but looking in areas such as mine at preserving the green belt, the countryside and our way of life?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, of course: taking account of the housing needs survey so that homelessness and affordable housing are addressed, the numbers should be set through a process of local decision making. The days of top-down targets, which led to the lowest rate of house building since 1923, are over. That is official, because I can tell Opposition Members that just a couple of days ago the National House-Building Council announced that there had been an 18% jump in the number of home starts—the applications to start building homes. Bottom-up is starting to work.
My constituents have a keen interest in house building in the North Wiltshire constituency. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), referred to “incremental” growth, which would certainly be more welcome to them than the urban extensions we have experienced in years past. Will the Minister confirm that decisions on house building should be based on meeting local housing need rather than catering for population movements from elsewhere in the country?
The idea that Ministers can sit in Whitehall and somehow dictate these tractor-like targets on five and 10-year plans has finally ended, I am pleased to say. My hon. Friend will be relieved to know that deciding where housing should go will now be an entirely local decision, prompted by the new homes bonus and other mechanisms.