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Building Better, Building Beautiful

Volume 669: debated on Monday 13 January 2020

2. What steps he is taking to simplify the planning system and implement the Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful initiative. (900101)

We want a planning system that encourages beautiful development, guards against ugliness and is based on stewardship and place- making. That is why we convened the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which submitted its report to me in December.

May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the commission’s co-chair, Sir Roger Scruton, who died yesterday? Sir Roger was an intellectual giant, a brilliant writer and a fearless fighter for freedom, not least in eastern Europe, and he made a unique contribution to public life.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and I associate myself with his remarks about Sir Roger Scruton.

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he will implement the Letwin review and whether his Department plans to capture development value to fund infrastructure as well as encourage sustainable building with very high-quality design? Will he meet me and a delegation from the Academy of Urbanism to discuss these ideas?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We are currently reviewing the recommendations of the commission and I shall respond in due course. I would be very happy to meet her and representatives from the Academy for Urbanism.

As regards capturing uplifts in land value, local planning authorities already use section 106 and the community infrastructure levy to pay for crucial affordable housing and infrastructure, and, as a result of changes we have made recently, there will shortly be greater transparency so that residents can see where this money is going.

I have absolutely no idea whether co-operative housing is likely to benefit from the Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful initiative, but by my definition it certainly should. Would the Secretary of State be willing to meet me and a small delegation from the co-op housing movement to see whether there can be a replication here in the UK of the successes that co-ops have had in the US in housing veterans and other people?

I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. The recommendations of the commission that we will publish shortly speak to all forms of housing, including co-operative housing and social housing, where, of course, there have been some fantastic examples of good-quality design, not least the RIBA award-winning new social homes in Norwich.

The question refers to simplifying the planning system, but one of its many complications is that there is no standard methodology for calculating five-year land supply. Will the Government look at this and please address the problem pretty quickly?

We will be giving that further thought. The Government are committed to bringing forward a new White Paper on planning reform. I will work closely with the Chancellor to draw up those proposals, and I would be very happy to speak with my hon. Friend and take his views as we do so.

May I welcome the Secretary of State back? Given the turnover of Housing Ministers, I trust that his first oral questions in the post will not also be his last. The Conservatives’ failure on planning is at the heart of their failure on housing. Their permitted development loophole lets developers sidestep the planning rules and build modern-day slum housing. It has been in place for four years now, so can he say whether the number of new affordable homes being built has gone up or down directly as a result of this planning change?

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks? Permitted development rights are subject to a review, and we have consulted stakeholders. He is right to say that there are some examples of poor practice, and I will carefully consider the information we have received before coming forward with proposals. Those rights have led to a large number of net additions that would not otherwise have been brought forward. That is important, and it is a contributing factor to the fact that, last year, we delivered more homes than any other for 30 years. Therefore, the planning reforms taken forward by my predecessors, which I will take forward with my new White Paper, have contributed to getting the homes built in this country that we desperately need.

For the record, the number of new social rented homes is at a near record low. Rather than the net additions that the Secretary of State talks about, the Conservative-led Local Government Association says that this policy has led directly to 13,500 fewer new affordable homes. It hits at the heart of the Tory failure on housing: the rules are loosened so that big builders profit while renters and buyers on ordinary incomes lose out. Every Conservative MP should know that they have lost the argument on housing. With Ipsos MORI showing a 17 point lead for Labour over the Conservatives on housing, people know the country has a housing crisis and they know the Conservatives are failing to fix it. The Secretary of State had nothing to say on housing at the election, so what will the Government now do differently to win public confidence on housing?

The right hon. Gentleman is on dangerous ground talking about the general election. He managed to take one of Labour’s safest seats to a marginal seat, and his colleague—the other shadow Secretary of State—was the co-ordinator of the Labour party’s general election campaign. The facts speak for themselves: last year we built more homes in this country than in any other year for 30 years; we built 1 million homes in the last Parliament and will build at least 1 million homes in the next Parliament; more affordable homes were built under this Conservative Government than under the last Labour Government; and we built more council houses last year than in the 13 years of the last Labour Government.