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Planning for the Future

Volume 686: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2020

[Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Planning for the Future White Paper.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. There is a great deal to consider in the White Paper, which takes as its starting point the idea that the lack of progress in building the homes we need in this country is largely due to our system of planning controls and approval. I should declare an interest at the outset. I have been happily married to a town planner —a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute—for 18 years, which just goes to show that not all politicians are at loggerheads with town planners. I can see by the number of people who have applied to speak in the debate that the issues raised in the White Paper have generated a great deal of interest. As an MP for an urban constituency that none the less has more than half its square mileage covered by a national nature reserve I believe I have as much insight as anyone into the balances that need to be struck in our planning system between preserving our environment and building more homes.

The White Paper proposes a number of reforms to how planning permissions are granted. Among them are a proposal that development land should be divided up into different zones—growth, renewal and protected—each with different approval rules. That proposal will remove the ability of locally elected councillors to scrutinise individual applications on their merits. Engagement with local communities will instead be only in the development of the local plan. In the White Paper it is envisaged somehow that that approach will engage groups who have previously been excluded from planning decisions, although it does not give details of how that will be achieved.

There are many other contentious proposals in the White Paper and I am confident that each of the points will be fully debated during the sitting, but I want to make two specific points. The world faces a climate emergency—a fact that the Conservative Government have belatedly woken up to. Having spent a decade trying to cut the “green crap”, in the words of their former leader, the Conservatives have recently made encouraging moves towards recognising that the climate crisis is real, our environment is degrading, and it is high time our Government got on and did something about it.

Among the most urgent challenges facing us, not just as a nation but in partnership with other nations across the world, is that of cutting our carbon emissions. I welcome the Government’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That commitment was underlined by the Prime Minister’s announcement of his 10-point plan last month. There was also an announcement on renewables in yesterday’s energy White Paper. However, all those announcements are missing the details of the actual plan to get there. Where are the policies? Where are the interim targets? Where is the funding?

The areas that need to be tackled are well known. We need to decarbonise our transport, power generation, agriculture and industry; but above all we need to decarbonise our housing. We need a step change in how our homes are built, how we heat them and how we cook our food. There are two key approaches we need to take to combat carbon emissions. The first is to upgrade existing homes with better insulation and sources of heating and power. The second is to ensure that all new homes are built to net zero carbon standards. That standard was ready to go in 2015 when the Liberal Democrats left government but was rejected by the Conservatives in 2016. The Government are now returning to it, but promise only a 75% decrease in carbon emissions by 2025. A million homes have been built since 2015. In itself that is hardly suggestive of a planning system that impedes development. Those homes have been built without a zero carbon homes standard. All of them will need to be expensively upgraded in the future.

I am grateful to my near neighbour for giving way. She mentioned going back to existing buildings. Is she aware of the Architects’ Journal campaign to retrofit? That could be an idea. Does she share my concern that often design is sacrificed in all this? There was a report last year by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, but it feels as if there is a possibility of ushering in the slums of the future. We need to emphasise more retrofitting stuff—and beauty, properly.

The hon. Lady makes some interesting points. The Liberal Democrats are absolutely committed to supporting policies for retrofitting—or upgrading, as I prefer to call it, as it is a slightly more future-focused look. I believe that the particular value of that policy is that it will benefit our lowest-income families the most. They are the ones who are living in the worst housing and who will benefit most from the reduction in heating bills that will result from, for example, better insulated homes. I am glad that she mentioned building design, because that is precisely the point I am making. If we can design our buildings from the start to achieve a net zero carbon output, those benefits would be there from day one and could be seen both in reduced carbon emissions and reduced heating bills.

The planning White Paper is a missed opportunity to do much more to embed this net zero carbon ambition into our planning policy and thus facilitate the step change that we need to see in our new housing developments. It is only through the constraints applied by the planning system that we can hope to see net zero carbon homes built by private sector housing companies that want to build cheaply and quickly.

The legislative framework already exists if the Government would only use it. The proposed planning reforms should bind together the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Climate Change Act 2008 to confirm that local planning authorities have a clear and specific duty to address climate change in their planning decisions. Carbon reduction would then become a material consideration in the planning process, enabling local authorities to reject applications that would not seek to achieve net zero carbon in the resulting developments, and the law could enable local authorities to go further if they wished by allowing them to put carbon reduction targets in their local plan.

The failure of the White Paper to explore opportunities to achieve net zero carbon in our housing is indicative of the Government’s failure to provide a proper plan to achieve their overall target of net zero carbon by 2050. However, it is not just a climate emergency that we face; we are also confronted by an environmental emergency. The threat to our natural environment has never been greater and the Government must do much more to tackle it. There could not be a better opportunity than a planning White Paper to make proposals about how we balance our need for housing and economic development with our need to protect our green spaces and wildlife.

There is a very real environmental pressure in every part of the country and the Government urgently need to set policy on it and provide a clear lead. However, in proposing a zoned approach to development, they are heading in precisely the wrong direction. By allowing the automatic granting of planning permissions in growth and renewal zones, the planning process will no longer be able to mitigate against environmental damage in those locations or restrict development where environmental damage cannot be mitigated.

I would struggle to think of a single part of my constituency that could be designated as an unrestricted growth zone, where development would need to take no account at all of environmental impact. The proposal to introduce such zones rides roughshod over the many small decisions that can be made by those who know their local areas and can arrive at the best solution for the local population and the local environment.

Government-commissioned research from University College London has found that homes built through permitted development rather than by going through the planning process are also of worse quality. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is also a very regressive step rather than a progressive step?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, because it highlights the fact that the more we weaken the planning decisions made by local authorities at local level, the more we risk allowing unsuitable development, including architecturally displeasing development, environmentally damaging development and development that is not primarily designed to meet the needs of the local community. That is why bypassing local authorities is the wrong approach.

The planning White Paper proposes to bypass much local authority planning involvement in the mistaken belief that it is local nimbys who are blocking development. In my constituency, it is local people who have provided many of the ideas for local authority action that have improved our environment and guided planning policies. Local authorities, especially Liberal Democrat-controlled ones, are often willing to go much further than the national Government in reducing carbon and improving our environment. In Richmond and Kingston, for example, the councils have introduced new cycle lanes to encourage people to reduce the number of car journeys they make, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure to encourage the switch to cars with lower emissions. Liberal Democrat councils up and down the country are also planting trees, installing solar panels on the roofs of council buildings, switching council vehicles to electric, and insulating council-owned homes. In each case, they are responding to the needs of their own environment and that of their local population.

When the public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus is completed, I believe that it will clearly demonstrate that some of the response could have been more effectively delivered by local authorities or neighbourhood groups. We have seen the weaknesses of a centralised test and trace system, for example, and even today the Government are setting central rules for school openings that might be better decided by local education authorities.

The same is true for planning. A group of concerned local residents, whether elected representatives or volunteers, are much better placed to decide how their street should be adapted to keep pace with the challenges of modern life than a few unknown Government workers in Whitehall. If all bodies making decisions about future developments can be tasked with the responsibility of achieving net-zero carbon and protecting our environment, then the ingenuity and enthusiasm of our local authorities, and the residents they serve, can take us a lot further towards the Government’s 2050 goal than any amount of top-down diktat. It is time for the Government to show they are serious about climate change and the environmental emergency, and that starts with some serious revision to this planning White Paper.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for securing this debate.

The proposed algorithm linked to the White Paper would more than double the annual housing target for the borough of Barnet to 5,744 units a year. That would place intolerable pressure on an area that is already building thousands of new homes—it is already playing its part in tackling the housing shortage. The numbers proposed in the algorithm for London and the south east would be impossible to deliver without significant urbanisation of the suburbs, encroachment on the green belt, or both. They would inevitably mean the construction of hundreds of high-rise blocks of flats, changing the landscape and the skyline forever and permanently blighting the local communities that we represent in this House; the open, low-rise, leafy suburban environment could become a thing of the past.

Even before these reforms come into operation, there are currently around 3,500 new homes proposed, and at various stages in the planning process, just in my Chipping Barnet constituency. Strong opposition is felt, for example, towards development proposals for Victoria Quarter, Colney Hatch Lane, Whalebones and—most controversially of all—for the station car parks at High Barnet and Cockfosters, just over the borough boundary. The reality is that more or less every brownfield site is already in the pipeline for development; there is simply no space for thousands more flats.

Page 54 of the White Paper suggests that these astonishingly high targets might be delivered by redeveloping streets of semi-detached homes. They call it “gentle densification”. To come anywhere near delivering these numbers using such a method would require the mass compulsory purchase and demolition of suburban streets. That is not remotely realistic, is not acceptable, and would be anything but gentle.

It is also unacceptable for the White Paper to deprive local communities of a say over building in designated growth zones. A faster process for creating a local plan is no substitute for input by residents and the local councillors they elect in a formal planning application process.

Finally, the White Paper indicates that as long as a building meets certain design standards, it should go ahead—even if it is far more dense than was previously acceptable under longstanding planning principles. This is an attempt to substitute nationally set design standards for rules on character, height, massing and bulk. However, as the Barnet Residents Association points out in its response to the consultation,

“a block of flats is still a block, no matter how tastefully it might be presented”.

This tendency is already evident in the Mayor of London’s draft plan, and I am deeply worried that if we pursue it in the White Paper as well, it would lead to the removal of the vital protections enshrined in planning rules. In conclusion, our suburbs, extolled by John Betjeman in his Metroland poems, are often underappreciated, but the people who live there form the bedrock of much our economic and civic life. Today, I call on the Minister to give us an early Christmas present. Tinkering with the algorithm will not be enough; let us junk that algorithm and scrap much of the White Paper, so that we can save the suburbs and defend our local environment.

It is a great pleasure to see you in the chair today, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this important debate.

The last time we debated this subject, in October in the main Chamber, I talked about three main themes. I will cover broadly the same three themes today, but I hope to do so in a fresh and original way in the time available.

The first is that, with any algorithm or formula, of course it is right to look at the inputs, how the formula works and the logic of it and to see whether we think those things are right. It is also right to look at the output of that formula and, if it seems to jar with the original intention, to go back and look at the inputs and logic.

This is not the time and the place to do that. Constructing an algorithm in a Westminster Hall debate is probably about as sensible as design by committee, but all those aspects warrant a fresh look. That starts with very basic things, such as how we define affordability. Sometimes the median is not the most appropriate thing to use. There is a danger in a constituency such as mine, where median incomes are based to some extent on the incomes of people working outside the area, that if house-building targets are driven based on those numbers, the result might be building more and more pricey larger executive homes that remain unaffordable to the people for whom the housing was intended to be more affordable.

In a constituency such as mine, and I suspect those of some others, yes, we need more houses. I think everybody these days accepts that we need to get supply and demand in better kilter. There is also an important question of mix and ensuring that as we increase those numbers that means an increase in houses that are genuinely affordable, in the sense meant by people who come to our surgeries. That is not only capital A Affordable as it is meant in the public sector, but affordable as in a home that I can afford to aspire to buy.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the existing affordable home ownership product is a much better way of delivering social housing than the first homes proposal in the White Paper?

The hon. Member raises important points. There is a need for housing of all different types, sizes and tenures, and there are different ways of delivering them. In the time we have available, I am afraid we are not going to get to the bottom of evaluating them in an ordinal way.

The third and important point I want to make is about national parks. I do not know whether there are others here who represent national park areas. There is the particular issue where part of a constituency is in a national park and parts are outside, so there are very different constraints in how land can be used. There is a danger that if a housing target or requirement is set based on the entire area, containing both national park and non-national park, with different constraints on what can be done in each part, the result will be the insufficient creation of new homes inside the national park and potentially too much on the edge.

A piece of work came out from Nationwide a few weeks ago that suggested that house prices in national parks have something like a 20% house price premium compared with those outside. In a constituency such as mine that is a huge amount of money. The Office for National Statistics is doing some further work, so hopefully we will be able to develop those figures. It is also important for the areas just outside the national park. In my constituency, that means areas such as Alton and Four Marks, where there is potentially a disproportionate amount of development in the border zone that can put considerable strain on infrastructure and provision of service. It can then be difficult to ensure adequate provision.

There has been a lot of debate about the proposals. Ministers have been in listening mode and have been very good in listening to colleagues across the House. I hope, as the matter develops further, it will be possible to take these considerations into account.

I am grateful to be called in today’s debate, Sir Charles, yet again discussing “Planning for the Future”. I am surprised we are still here after the debate in the Chamber a few weeks ago, when there was deep concern across the House about the proposals, since the language painted a very different picture from the reality of what they would bring.

I want to focus on York, my constituency, and the real challenges we are facing with the whole planning system that will be exacerbated by “Planning for the Future”. The Government talk about giving back control and local people having a say, but when it comes to “Planning for the Future”, there is virtually no meaningful involvement. There may be consultation but certainly no involvement in the depth of planning decisions about their local environment.

Public engagement seems to be higher for individual planning applications than broader planning consultations. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be more democratic to encourage and facilitate public engagement at every stage and at every level, and that these changes will lead to more decisions being made behind closed doors and make things worse, not better?

I absolutely do agree with my hon. Friend, not least when infill housing development proposals come forward and there is actually very little accountability. That is why it is so important that local people have a say about their community—they know it best.

The reality is that whoever holds the cheque book holds the power in planning, and it is set to get worse under the proposed changes. I want to set out the problem that we are facing in York Central, in what would be a renewable area, and why the current system and “Planning for the Future” will fail York for generations.

Some 80% of housing need is for family housing, and I do not know a family that does not want a house with a garden, yet the planning for York Central will mean that 80% of housing is unaffordable one or two-bedroom flats—nothing that our constituency needs, despite over £155 million of public money being poured into the scheme—built on 45 hectares of public land. Already, under the current system, the housing is for investors, not residents.

That is nothing short of immoral when people are living in damp, overcrowded, poor-quality private rented sector houses. I was just looking at the figures: in York we have lost 45 socially rented homes, and that situation is getting worse with right to buy. We have a real housing crisis here, and this paper does not match our needs. These people have nowhere to go in York: if they cannot move out, which is the only option, they are left in this housing crisis; if they do move out, our local economy suffers, because we do not have the skills mix that our city needs.

York Central is adjacent to the rail station, which is one of the best-connected locations in the country; it is the mid-point between Edinburgh and London, a destination for HS2, if that is still going ahead—although today that looks uncertain—and at the intersection with the trans-Pennine route. If I look across to places such as Crewe or Curzon Street in Birmingham, the opportunity for creating jobs on these sites has been realised, and economic investment has been prioritised. However, York Central will provide just 6,500 jobs because the majority of the site is being handed over to housing.

The way the partnership has been set out means that Network Rail, Homes England and the National Railway Museum own the site and control the decisions. These bodies are not based in York. The Lib Dem-Green council, bizarrely, extracted itself from any decision making on the site. We now have the largest brownfield site in Europe, in the northern powerhouse, having its future determined by three national organisations with no interest in the future of the city.

The National Railway Museum rightly wants to see an upgrade to the museum by 2025 to celebrate 200 years of the railway, but Homes England has the power and money, and is certainly not putting forward the proposals our city needs. Homes England has a responsibility not only for developing housing, but for the economic future of our city, yet it has no understanding of our current economic situation. It is talking about putting low-wage, low-skill jobs on the site, when we need high-value jobs. We have a great opportunity with the bioscience industry, the digital creative sector and rail jobs for the future, and we know that there is investment interest. However, those things will be locked out of the site because of this imbalance, with Homes England holding the cards.

What we want to do is truly build back better by ensuring that we have good-quality jobs and the homes that people need in our city for the wider economy. “Planning for the Future” fails to address the situation. We must first address local need and then local opportunities to drive development. “Planning for the Future” further takes away powers of local scrutiny and will mean that those with the power, money and opportunity end up recreating our cities in a way that meets their short-term financial interests and undermines the long-term economic health of our city.

When it comes to the incredible city of York, it will result in future generations not having the good-quality jobs that I want them to have. Families will not have the housing they need, our local economy will be completely skewed, we will not have the skills we need and we will be overrun by speculative investors. Surely that is not what the Minister wants, and yet that will be the outcome of “Planning for the Future”.

I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for bringing forward such an important debate. Others in the Chamber will no doubt make arguments about algorithms and housing numbers, but I want to focus my remarks on the delivery of affordable housing, particularly in our Cornish communities. Obviously, that goes hand in hand with housing targets.

Cornwall has a proud track record of delivering 30% affordable housing over the past 10 years. I would not be in this place if, at 29 years old, as a postman, I could afford an open market house in my home town. That was the driving force for my getting involved in politics; I wanted to give people opportunity. At the time, the Labour Government seemed very interested in providing houses for people who were out of work, but not particularly interested in trying to help people who were. I support the Government’s plans for key worker housing, particularly the 30% key worker discount that the Secretary of State announced recently—I am very keen to support that.

Cornwall has a very low wage base and a very high house price market, and that creates all sorts of intrinsic problems with our housing stock. One of the ways that we saw to that in my time on the district council, before it was abolished, was to implement a community self-build scheme in a community very close to me, so that locals were able to purchase a plot of land and build their own houses. It was an exceptional scheme, and I hope the Government and Ministers will look at it.

We have done a lot of work on sites such as rural exemption sites. They are not completely a panacea, but I would like to see their use increase to allow local people in towns and villages where there is not a development boundary at present to get a house in the town or village in which they grew up.

One issue that I want to cover is public sector land. Cornwall is supposed to be integrating into the One Public Estate programme, but we have had some significant problems, particularly with the NHS property holdings company, which seems to want to keep hold of its land. If the Minister is able to apply some pressure to it, we would be very keen to get hold of some of its land to provide some key worker housing for our community hospitals, particularly in the Bude and Stratton area.

We have had significant challenges in the system with land values. I frequently talk to developers in Cornwall, and they say that they have long discussions with planners about affordable housing criteria, road allocations and access, which take forever. We really need to start delivering houses for people now, so I would ask that we look at speeding that up.

I would also ask that we consider more accurate town and village housing data. Some of our town and parish councils have been exceptionally good in collecting information about the people who are in need of housing in their areas and what the tenure mix needs to be, and I would ask that we look at that. I know that the Government are making progress on the challenges around sizeable deposits, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment on longer term mortgages. I think that is a good step.

I have highlighted some of the problems, and there are also the challenges relating to covid. A lot of people wish to relocate their businesses and move to Cornwall, and that is a great thing. If they are taking second homes and living in them permanently, that is an exceptionally good thing, but it puts more pressure on Cornish housing stock. If the Minister is looking at pilots, we would be very keen to have a community self-build pilot in Cornwall to demonstrate our willingness to support people. I also ask the Minister to apply some pressure to Cornwall Council, which seems very resistant to the idea of Rentplus, which I think is an exceptionally good model for people who do not have a deposit but want to own a house, and want to use the rent that they pay as a deposit for their mortgage.

On NHS property holdings, can we get One Public Estate working so that we can get key worker housing for some of our nurses in Bude and the surrounding areas? Can we simplify the system so that developers do not have to go on a massively long journey to get the planning that they are seeking? Can we have a service plot provision in Cornwall as a pilot, more flexible tenures, and a simpler planning system for schemes that are exemption sites? Can the Minister look at agricultural ties? So many farmers approach me to say their family are looking to build a house on land. Can we look at that as well, please, Minister?

We are going to have a vote soon, so I might have to cut off Harriett Baldwin in full flow, but we will bring her back—all of you back—after 15 minutes.

Thank you, Sir Charles. I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this debate. I congratulate the Minister because, since he has been Housing Minister, we have achieved the magic target of 250,000 homes a year in this country.

On behalf of West Worcestershire, let me say that we are keen and positive on home building. We have been delivering at the pace of nearly 2,000 homes a year, and that has been generally very good for the area. However, while there is a lot to welcome in the “Planning for the Future White Paper”, there are also elements I would like to see the Government put more emphasis on in terms of local areas.

First, it has been mentioned before, but I want to put on record that the algorithm does not make any sense to me at all. It has ended up with something that is completely undeliverable for the Malvern Hills area, where we have floodplain and hills, and where we simply do not have the sites to deliver the numbers calculated by this algorithm.

However, the Minister starts from a very strong base. He has the 250,000 homes a year being delivered. Through his “Planning for the Future” consultation, he needs to make some incremental and more localist changes. I think a lot of colleagues this afternoon will mention similar things, along the lines of putting more emphasis on the small builder. I know that is in the White Paper, but it would be lovely to see it come out as part of the change in the direction of travel.

There should also be more emphasis on neighbourhood planning. If we ask communities to find sites for housing, we will be surprised how much more we find. In Malvern Hills, I have never been able to understand why some villages are categorised as not being able to have any development whatever because it is described as unsustainable. Many of my 78 parishes cannot build a single house. If we made things more granular, more incremental and more small scale and we worked with our neighbourhoods to develop them, we would end up producing those additional houses—that incremental development over and above the already significant numbers that are being delivered.

I want to feed in a point about the bottlenecks that builders tell me they find in local authorities in terms of highways engineers being able to do highways studies quickly enough. There are physically not necessarily going to be enough qualified people in this country to produce the studies required. Has the Minister thought about taking steps to ensure that that is addressed or simplified in some way?

I do not need to take up too much time, because I have made the point about smaller being better. Let us put more emphasis on the ability of smaller communities to add a little bit. Let us not hand a developer’s charter to these very large housing sites that only big developers can deliver. Let us unblock some of the issues that stop existing planning permissions being built out, through things such as ensuring that there is a good quality of highways engineers who can complete the studies. Let us move from the strong foundation that we currently have in house building by making some incremental changes that favour the little guy.

I stand to carry on the conversation that we have just had with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann). I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for securing this important debate and the Minister for all he does and for his willingness to engage with all those who are keen to be involved in this area.

As we heard, the White Paper proposes a range of reforms, and I will not go over everything that has been said. In fact, I want to focus on the fact that the gist of the White Paper is to increase access to homes and ownership of a home. To own a home is an amazing thing; it gives a sense of security, builds community and provides opportunity, so we should absolutely continue to do all we can to ensure that people can own a home.

However, here lies the problem in Cornwall, in particular, where, as we have heard, prices are high and wages are low. That is what I want to try to address. The truth is that there are people elsewhere in the country who fancy a bit of Cornwall, particularly at the moment, with it being in tier 1—sorry for rubbing that in, Sir Charles; that was insensitive. We have seen an enormous rush of people buying a home in Cornwall because they have seen it as the place to be not just during the recent restrictions but for the whole year. That is nothing new. We could build all the homes that the country could cope with, but the people who need them would not necessarily get them. That is absolutely the case in Cornwall.

I have three suggestions. First, local authorities should be given power to support local home ownership. St Ives, a key part of my constituency—so key that the constituency is named after it—captured headlines around the world when it introduced a primary residence clause in its neighbourhood plan so that no new home could be built in the St Ives Town Council area unless it was for local ownership as a primary residence. That was not necessarily supported at the time, but it has really helped the community to stake the case that building homes for people who live elsewhere is not at all helpful. I ask the Minister to consider putting something in the White Paper that would enable local authorities, where there is a need, to provide access to homes to local people when they are built, somehow restricting them for other people for a period, even when on the market. I do not know how that can be done—I leave him with the problem, not the solution.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall said, innovative home ownership models should be a must—[Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

I was asking the Minister to consider a way to enable local authorities to ensure that local people have access to the homes once they are built. I will now look at other models that enable working families to get on the property ladder, not forgetting what I said earlier about the promise, security and opportunity of owning one’s own home. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall referred to rent to buy. Rent to buy offers access to working families: it gives them a discounted rent for a period; they then have the opportunity to buy the freehold of that property, and in return some models offer them help towards their deposit. The Treasury supports it, the Prime Minister supports it and No. 10 recently produced a paper to encourage councils to take it up, but Cornwall Council, for some reason—I have discussed this with it on a number of occasions—has consistently refused to allow the model to be available to working families in Cornwall. When I met the council the last time, it accepted that about 800 homes would have been built for local families.

The truth is that where places such as Cornwall have a long waiting list for social and affordable housing, the working families are very low on that list. As my hon. Friend hinted, lots of other people genuinely have a greater need, but the truth is that working families who rent their property and who could benefit from the rent-to-buy model find themselves paying very high rents. That is often what drives the kind of poverty and deprivation that we see in Cornwall. I am interested in hearing from the Minister whether, through the reforms, we can find a way to ensure that local authorities cannot deny this opportunity to local families.

Finally, if through the White Paper we can continue discussions about the opportunity to improve the build quality and efficiency and reduce the cost of running homes, that will be gratefully welcomed.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this debate. As we all know, and as she rightly said, it was only a matter of a few weeks ago that we were discussing this issue. The almost united position across the House was that we were displeased with the White Paper and the housing algorithm.

I will start by thanking the Minister, however, because he has routinely engaged with those who have concerns. He is a credit to the Department. In fact, he has alleviated my concerns about various aspects, and while I am unable to completely support all elements of the housing White Paper, or indeed the algorithm, I am aware that there are some significant positive parts to it, and I hope we can build on that in the future.

We have heard a little bit too much about the nature of Cornwall and we might well be told that everyone fancies a bit of Cornwall, but we favour Devon more. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) raised, in constituencies such as mine in Totnes and south Devon, where there is a national park in the north and an area of outstanding natural beauty in the south, with a small gap in between that under the White Paper is now the focal point for development, that needs to be taken into consideration. Otherwise, all the housing requirements are likely to be put in that small, specific area, which would be totally unfit and totally inappropriate.

Of course, areas such as mine in Totnes and south Devon, where we have areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, are also tourist destinations and places where second homes are purchased at a huge rate of knots. When houses are built, even with the best of intentions—selling them to local people at affordable prices—all too often they end up as second homes, with no opportunity to become homes for people who will live and work in the area. There is an appropriate level, which is this tiered system, and I think there is some validity in it. I hope we can expand on it, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments.

One objection I have to the White Paper in its entirety is the lack of mention of rural areas. In fact, I think “rural” is mentioned in a significant category only once. It is important that we understand that the rural build structure is very different to that of the urban one. In the same way we need to be able to understand what is best for the rural community and how we are to achieve it. I am sure that my colleagues from the south west would universally agree.

There are areas of extraordinary success. South Hams District Council in my constituency has successfully implemented a joint local plan with Plymouth where they have met their housing targets and continue to deliver for the people of south Devon. That plan should not be taken away just because we are looking at new reforms.

The third point I wish to make, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) made with great effect, was about neighbourhood plans. We know the value of communities engaging in this process, because they know what is best for their area. I think about Collaton St Mary and its fantastic neighbourhood plan or new neighbourhood plans that have been formulated in Dartmouth. Those are all places where we can engage with the community and make sure we are building what is right for them and right for the area, and make sure that it has a long-term benefit.

Since it is important that we also hear about Bath,  is it not also true that local councils know best? In Bath, 1,500 homes are permitted to be built. The council has made the decision. The issue is the developers not building the homes, not the councils not making the decisions to build the homes.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Like all these things it is about finding balance, but I always argue that including the local community in that decision and making sure that the right decisions are made at the right times ensures that it is maintained.

My final point is about jobs. We should not be building in areas where there are no jobs to sustain them. We need to make sure that there is an approach in which jobs are available so that people can live and work in the area and can also afford those homes. A related point is about infrastructure viability. All too often, I have seen housing development plans proposed without adequate infrastructure. Will the Minister add to the point about how we will be able to deliver on the infrastructure network, and how we can make sure that we are building in the right areas and not on flood plains or next to roads that cannot deal with the increase?

I would be pleased to be able to go back to my constituents and inform them that we are cultivating and creating policy that will make a difference in delivering for those new housing sites. I welcome elements of the White Paper, and I thank the Minister for what he has done and is doing. It is right that we recognise that delivering 250,000 homes is a massive achievement that was not achieved by previous Governments. I congratulate him on that and look forward to working with him and his team to shape this housing policy for the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this important and timely debate, as well as my colleagues from the south-west who have spoken. It has been a bit of a south-west fest so far and I feel like I need to pull the centre of gravity back and further north towards the north midlands, because, sadly, we have similar challenges to those of many of my colleagues who have already spoken.

I represent a constituency bedevilled for more than a decade by planning issues caused by the failure to put a local plan in place in a timely and effective manner, as is so often the case. That means a cascade of unwanted and unnecessary development, followed by a local plan that does not necessarily work for the local community in its first iteration and initial drafts. We are in the middle of trying to resolve that knotty conundrum after so many years of it failing to be resolved.

As a concept, I welcome many of the things that the Government are trying to do. There is no denying that the planning system, as it stands, is sub-optimal. It is broken, in places, and does not work either for those seeking to get on the housing ladder to be housed in the first place or for those interacting more closely with it, be they developers, planners or applicants. I accept that there is a fundamental problem with planning that needs to be resolved. The evidence bases that have to be put together by local councils are too detailed and take too long. The overall process is laborious, and the plans produced often bear—at best—a relationship to problems that existed five years ago rather than current problems.

We need to reinvent community engagement. I welcome the Government putting all those ideas on the table in principle but, as with everything in planning, the devil is in the detail. The Government have brought forward a set of consultations that are deliberately high-level and that deliberately encourage this kind of debate. I welcome their commitment to that, but the challenge is the detail and the devil within it. I can see that zoning could be welcome for my constituency in principle, or it could be significantly deleterious to my constituency if it was not not implemented in the right way. I can see that the streamlining of the planning processes should be welcomed because it gives an effective outcome to everybody involved more quickly, and I should be able to welcome that in principle, but the issue is the devil underneath that streamlining. I can see the replacement of soundness as positive in principle, as long as the actual reality on the ground enables us as communities to make better decisions.

The same goes for better engagement and planning, fast-track for beauty, and section 106 replacements: they could all be good in principle but we need that detail. We need it in the next stages of the consultation before we can have the comfort that our communities demand. That is particularly the case for those communities who have had historical challenges with planning to ensure they have confidence that the White Paper will try to resolve some of those challenges.

The questions that remain for communities such as mine are about how, for example, we reconcile the building of more houses, which is necessary in many parts of the country, with the desire to protect, which is apparently underneath the principle of zoning. There is a tension between those two principles and at the end of that process, one will have to take priority over the other. It is that decision that is the most important for my community.

How do you speed up the creation of a local plan process—a great idea in principle—while ensuring that a greater decision-making process is embedded at the start of that process and that people have the right level of oversight and ability to influence it? How will you reduce an evidence base—again, a great idea in principle—in a system that is so formal and specific to individual areas, and at times so litigious, which is the whole point of why the evidence base is often created and takes so long?

How will localism be maintained with such an increase in standardisation? How will we ensure that the neighbourhood plans that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) highlighted will have a continued central place within this system? How fundamentally will the very good ideas and principles within “Planning for the Future” interact with the housing methodology? In that regard, I also have concerns about the overall implementation and impact on areas such as mine.

In principle, there are some good ideas and opportunities to make a system that has not worked for many decades better. However, it is the detail that we need and that our communities require to be comfortable with these ideas.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing the debate. Like that of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), my local authority in Chester East has suffered enormously from speculative housing developments that took place because there was no local plan. They have turned a corner now and are delivering housing at a sustainable rate, but that is on the back of having had all sorts of developments go on that local people did not want, and that I do not think should have taken place.

I do want to begin by recognising the positive elements in the proposals. The emphasis on a national design code and locally produced designed guides is very welcome. For the reasons that I mentioned before, getting local plans in place all over the country is only going to be a benefit, if we can do that right.

The more certainty we have in the planning system, the fewer delays we get and the less money that is spent by taxpayers and local authorities in costly legal battles with developers about whether a development can take place. I also welcome the measures aimed at helping small and medium-sized enterprise builders and zero carbon homes. But we have to be realistic about the world into which these proposals are seeking to introduce reform. As constituency MPs, we all know that too many developers are incredibly well-resourced and have legal teams to match. While many planning and enforcement departments of local authorities are excellent, some may be found wanting because of a lack of resources, a lack of competence or a mixture of both. We need to be mindful that whatever changes will need to withstand the full force of developers’ legal teams, which all too often operate on the basis that they only have to be successful in one of the developments they are fighting for to pay the costs of the lawyers for all the others for which they are agitating to get permission.

Let us take the idea, for example, that permission might be automatically given to developments if decisions are not taken soon enough. I can see that becoming a real favourite of developers who bombard local authorities that are behind the curve, knowing that they will not get decisions done in time. Those authorities end up with lots of developments that they would not otherwise have wanted. I appreciate the Minister and the Government want to see decisions made more quickly, but some local authorities are going to suffer in that transition if we put in that kind of a big stick.

When it comes to zoning, again I can see big arguments over who has made the right or wrong decision over zones, and lawyers pushing to get more areas put into the development zones. Similarly, the decision potentially to take out councillors from more detailed decisions on planning matters means that they will be left just to officers and developer pressure. Councillors play a vital role, with their local knowledge and their representation of local people.

In other areas, I feel like the proposals are more about what they are missing—for example, on infrastructure. I do not see clearly what we will do to stop this cat-and-mouse game with developers and local authorities about when to start building infrastructure for developments that they have already built, and when they start about how quickly they finish.

There is a whole gap around NHS provision. Again and again, I see decisions on planning that never even mention provision for the NHS. We have gotten okay at getting provision for schools or highways, but the Government’s focus in this area is lacking. I would have liked to see something in the proposals to specifically address that balance. The algorithm will almost double the number of homes that my local authority is expected to build and the infrastructure for that is incredibly important.

Finally, and most importantly for me, the answer to our desire to build more homes, which is a laudable desire and on which we have already made good progress, is to get the homes built for which we already have permission. We would not need to go down the road of radically reshaping proposals. There are more than 1 million homes for which permission has been granted; every year, tens of thousands of homes get given permission. Let us make that the No. 1 focus of our proposals, then we would have everybody onside and everybody on board, wanting to deliver homes for people in a balanced way. I ask that the Minister goes away and thinks again in terms of putting forward proposals that will see homes with permission built first and foremost, before we tear up some of the institutions that help keep local decision making as a priority.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this debate. We appear to have a bit of a zoning theme in the way that this debate has been scheduled. We have had the south-west and we are in the north now. Now we are up north, we will talk proper and get this debate sorted.

I am sure most of us in this place will agree that our planning system has been in need of urgent reform for some time; the disagreement is about how we actually do that. The speed at which we need to level up and the changes we need to see—the changes that voters backed a year ago—mean that we need to start to do things differently. Many of the issues that are relevant today—the technologies we use and the way we live our lives—have evolved, and that needs to be reflected in planning legislation. There is no doubt our planning system is far too complicated, driven in part by the litigious nature of developers, and that has been a barrier to building the homes people need to see and getting them in the right places.

That is exactly the case in Warrington, where the borough council has spent the past five years producing a plan, largely ignoring 4,000 responses to consultations, and still we have no plan available for inspectors to review. We are now told we will not have one until at least the summer of next year.

Many of the proposals put forward by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government back in August are a welcome step. They lay the foundations for a brighter future. It is about providing affordable homes for young people and creating a better quality of neighbourhood right across the country, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) said, it is also about getting the detail right in the legislation. That is why I am so pleased we have the consultation at this stage, so we can bring those issues forward to the Minister to address.

I want to reflect on the proposed submission version of the Warrington local plan, which expected growth above anything previously achieved, with little evidence to support that expectation. To me, that highlights why we need some of these changes. The scale of new development being proposed in Warrington meant that large areas of the green belt, particularly across my constituency of Warrington South, were to be released for development. That is where the current Labour local council plan gets it so wrong. It concentrated on placing new development on the green belt and previously undeveloped sites, rather than providing for regeneration and redevelopment of a town centre massively impacted by years of neglect. While the council needed to reflect Government requirements for the assessment of the number of new homes to be built, the figure they used in the PSV exceeded all national requirements and proposes housebuilding at a level never, ever previously achieved in Warrington.

The plan does not address more obvious housing needs, but instead proposes large new suburbs and urban extensions, and there is no clear plan as to how developers would be required to deliver the type of housing in the right places of the town that would most benefit existing residents. In short, the number of homes does not make sense, but the location of the new houses is even less understandable.

Frustratingly, the largest brownfield site in Warrington—one of the largest brownfield sites in the north-west of England—the Fiddler’s Ferry power station, which closed earlier this year, has not been included in a plan that extends for the next 20 years. It even has its own rail line, which would satisfy some of the issues that we need to address in how we move around the country. It would allow us to retain some of the green belt, but it has not been considered.

On the back of the planning reforms, I am pleased to see that Warrington borough council will be pausing its work on the local plan, looking again at the homes we need and making a fresh assessment of the opportunity to redevelop our town centre and use brownfield sites. I have a request for the Minister: can we have some clarity soon on the housing numbers? The proposal in the White Paper will actually reduce the number of homes being built in Warrington, so I am perhaps one of the few people in this place who really like the algorithm—it is doing the right thing, and I thank the Minister.

I particularly welcome my hon. Friend’s making that point. It is the understanding that building houses in the right places is the most suitable point to go back to our constituents with. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Absolutely. It is about getting the right types of homes in the right places. Land designated for growth will allow new homes, schools, shops and hospitals to be built quickly, and we need that levelling up to happen urgently. Getting the right places is the most important thing.

The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), and I think also the hon. Member for Richmond Park, talked about how local councils are best placed to try to work these things through. I have to say that is not the case in Warrington. The local Labour council ignored all the Liberal Democrat councillors, who argued that it was building in the wrong places. I am afraid that the very simple system that we have at the moment is broken and needs to be fixed.

I welcome the new planning system. There are a lot of good elements in the proposals, but it will come down to the detail. I look forward to continuing the conversation with the Minister, who has been so good in responding to the issues that have been raised with him.

Thank you, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing the debate. I think all Members present agree that we need more homes, and more affordable homes. Picking up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), however, we need the right types of homes in the right places.

I congratulate the Minister on building 250,000 homes, which is an excellent achievement, and I would like to contrast that with what is happening in my city, London, where we are failing to build enough homes. The Mayor of London was given just under £5 billion to build 116,000 new homes, but we have started only 52,000, which is disgraceful. My borough and many other London boroughs need more homes.

Is the problem about providing not affordable homes but social homes for rent? In Bath, the average house price is almost £500,000, and an affordable home would cost 20% less. It will never be affordable for anybody to rent, let alone to buy. What is actually “affordable” in her words?

I agree with the hon. Lady that we need more socially rented homes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) said, we need a wide range of tenures across the spectrum. In my local authority, we are building 600 new homes this year. Of that, half—300—will be socially rented.

Let me indulge myself for a moment and talk about my borough, because it is slightly unique. We are the densest residential borough in the entire country. We were fully built out by 1900, and we already have a high skyline. We have just approved a 29-storey tower. Others have been approved, such as Newcombe House, which has 18 storeys. We have a huge physical constraint on our ability to build more houses in our borough. Some 73% of my borough is a conservation area, which we are delighted about. In fact, we think more of it should be a conservation area, but it brings constraints.

I want to limit my remarks to the White Paper, as opposed to the algorithm, because I have talked about the algorithm in the main Chamber. By the way, under the algorithm the housing target in my borough goes up sevenfold, relative to the December 2019 London plan, which has not gone through yet. 

Let me focus on the White Paper. I think that local engagement in planning and local democracy are absolutely critical. I have spent one year in this place, and the more time I spend here, the more I believe in local democracy, since local authorities are closest to the people.

The current plan in the White Paper is that there will be local engagement in the plan for a growth zone, but it is up front, and once the plan is formulated there is no need for specific planning permission. I am very concerned about that. Although I have great residents associations and the Kensington Society, which work very hard and will submit input at that stage, the vast majority of people comment only when they know about a specific development on their doorstep. My constituents and residents will be up in arms if they find out that 18 months ago a plan was approved that they were not aware of and certainly did not give any feedback on, and now they simply have to suffer the consequences.

Particularly in transient populations, which we see a lot in London, people who move into an area long after the consultation took place will have no opportunity to comment even if they were inclined to.

That is an exceptionally good point. The other point I want to make about local plans being decided up front, with no subsequent planning permission, is that they cover a period of three years, and we all know how volatile the housing market has been over the course of the past three years. What was planned a few years ago at one of the two brownfield sites in my constituency—the Earl’s Court exhibition site—is definitely not what is being considered today. It is very important that we do not have one plan that stays in place for three years.

The other point that I want to make is also about localism. We should not have a standard national plan that every local authority adopts. We need the ability to adapt each plan to the local authority. I will give hon. Members an example from my local authority. We have fought very hard on basements, and we now allow only one additional basement. On my street a few years ago, a house went down three additional basements underneath lower ground floor level. Goodness—the terrace could fall down, but never mind. It is very important that local authorities can tailor things to their individual communities. There are good things in the White Paper. The move to digital first must be recommended, as must the move to beauty in design—although one person’s beauty can be another person’s something else.

[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]


I welcome those proposals, but can we review the White Paper? I have fed into the consultation, but we need much more focus on local decision making.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I thank the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) for securing this important debate and for putting net zero—there is a big gap—at the heart of her argument. I agree wholeheartedly with that.

I also thank the 11 Members or so who contributed—initially, 15 were down to speak, but it has been a case of shifting sands. I thank the right hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), for St Ives (Derek Thomas), for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan), for Warrington South (Andy Carter), and for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), and I certainly cannot forget our colleagues from Cornwall. We have heard their powerful voices today, and they are clearly showing off about being in tier 1. It has been a powerful, informed discussion and debate.

The proposals in the White Paper come at a time when we hear much talk about building, not just to solve the housing crisis but as a way to boost the economy, create new sustainable jobs, help us to meet the net zero goals and, very importantly, respond to the covid crisis. Some of the proposals, at first glance, are reforms that we on the Labour Benches welcome and have called for in the past—timely local plans, moving from the analogue, paper-centric world to the digital world, while not excluding others, and improving the quality and design standards. Yet people do not have to scratch beneath the surface to discover that the very heart of the proposals—the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire referred to the details—is a huge shift of control and influence from communities and local democracy to well-resourced developers and Whitehall. People across the Chamber have certainly said that.

In reality the proposals do little to build back better, more beautiful, or greener. In many cases they do exactly the opposite—a point made powerfully by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. They create permitted development monstrosities, high rises, over-development, two-storey extensions on every house in suburbia, in every street, and give a green light, in many areas, to ghettos of houses in multiple occupation. We do not need more of those.

Coming on the back of a decade of austerity and the current economic crisis, the reforms are a further attack on councils. They strip away power and finance from local authorities and, with that, take away communities’ ability to have their voice heard throughout the planning process. That case was put forward powerfully by the hon. Member for Totnes.

The zonal approach of growth, renewal and protection is of particular concern. It risks creating a free-for-all in which well-resourced developers and associated lobbyists carve up our villages, towns and cities, creating further segregation, and encroaching on our green belt. The hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and I share a border, in Moore. My concern is that the approach will do nothing of the sort—it will just maintain the status quo. Undoubtedly we will have a debate about that locally, but we have a shared interest.

The vast majority of councillors throughout the land believe that the proposals are undemocratic, including 61% of Conservative councillors. More than 250,000 supporters of the countryside charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England argue the same. I think we have all been lobbied by them—rightly, along with the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Town and Country Planning Association, the Royal Institute of British Architects, Civic Voice, and many more in and beyond the housing sector. Only yesterday The Times reported that the Prime Minister stood up for his constituents and took advantage of the very right that he wants to abolish for others, opposing a development in his constituency using the current system. What role does the Minister believe residents and councillors should have throughout the planning process?

As has been argued in the Chamber today, good place-making must keep planning local, not developer-centric and certainly not based on a diktat from a Whitehall algorithm. That algorithm instructs local planning authorities to build 161% more homes in London and the south-east but 28% fewer homes overall in the north—pouring concrete over London and the south-east, while hollowing out the north. How does that fit with the Government’s levelling up agenda for communities in the midlands and the north?

Like organisations such as the Woodland Trust, I would also like to hear the Minister’s comments about environmental protections in this White Paper. It is not at all clear how the Government can reconcile the proposals in the Environment Bill, and the Prime Minister’s comments about “newt-counting” do not exactly instil confidence that the Government take ecological or environmental protection seriously.

There are still 1 million unbuilt housing permissions from the last 10 years; I think the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich made that point. Yet the White Paper does nothing to explain how we will ensure that developers either “use it or lose it”—that is, lose such permissions. Also, the lack of any mention of social housing in the White Paper means that we will remain over-reliant on private builders and market cycles to get homes built.

If we are serious about maximising housing delivery and meeting building targets, the Government need to stop ignoring the answer that is right in front of them and build a new generation of social housing—and, yes, make it net zero. Just 6,500 homes for social rent were built last year. The White Paper on social housing, which was published recently, has some good things in it, but the key thing that it was lacking was a plan to build more social homes.

The Local Government Association found that in the last five years 30,000 affordable homes would have gone unbuilt if the Government’s proposal to scrap section 106 for developments under 40 or 50 homes had been in place, which would have affected rural areas such as Cornwall; I have to mention Cornwall again. Can the Minister set out the evidence behind the proposal to scrap section 106?

I would also like to hear from the Minister about the new levy that is being proposed to replace section 106 and the community infrastructure levy. We have had very little detail about how this new levy would work. The current proposals seem to mean that councils would provide up-front cash, and yet they would really struggle to fund infrastructure. So, more detail on that would be very much appreciated. Why are the Government continuing with their absurd extensions to permitted development? They know very well that such extensions create bad homes and blight communities; we have all seen examples of those things in our own communities.

I am pleased that the Minister, responding to our prayer against the recent statutory instrument in this area and a potential Back-Bench rebellion, finally recognised that space and light are important for human habitation; there must be at least minimum amounts of both. I urge him to go further and adopt some of the principles in the Healthy Homes Bill, to give local communities a voice again on these matters.

Members from all parties do not want streets, villages, towns and cities to be littered with inappropriate two-storey extensions that pitch neighbour against neighbour, and nor do they want high streets to be hollowed out, with former shops being converted into HMOs and wheelie bins flowing into the streets of the towns and cities that we represent. There is nothing beautiful, and nothing greener or better, about that reality.

In conclusion, we cannot cheat our way out of the housing crisis; building healthy and sustainable homes should be the response to this pandemic. However, clear and measurable targets for net zero are currently missing from these proposals. We should put communities at the heart of good place-making, strengthening and resourcing our planning system, and extending local democracy, to build good-quality housing for all.

Before I ask the Minister to respond, Members should note that this debate will conclude at 4.12 pm. If the Minister keeps his response to about nine minutes, that will leave time for Ms Olney to respond as well.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I shall do my utmost to respond to this wide-ranging debate in nine minutes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on securing this debate. For her, Christmas has come early, as it has for other right hon. and hon. Members around the Chamber who have been able to express themselves eloquently and passionately on a matter that should concern us all. I will try to address all the points raised by colleagues.

I shall begin by trying to clear up a misunderstanding that has been abroad in this debate and has also been around for some time, which is about what happens to the existing planning system. What we are trying to do through the proposals that we have tabled is to create a quicker, more transparent planning system. When applications that vary from the local plan are made, however, they will still need to be made through the present planning application process. In conservation and protected areas, all applications will require a bespoke approach through the present planning system, so it does not go away. We simply want a quicker and faster process that we can also apply. I hope that clears up that particular matter.

Two consultations were launched on 6 August. The first, on the local housing need calculation, closed on 1 October, and the second, on the broader, more forward-looking reforms in our White Paper, closed on 29 October. We received 2,500 responses to the local housing need calculation and some 44,000 to the White Paper. The local housing need calculation was all about making sure that we address the issue of affordability, which we know is a challenge in many communities around our country where housing is simply too expensive for many people to achieve. We all recognise that we need to do something about that.

We also need to make sure that we regenerate our communities and level up, and ensure the best use of brownfield. Those are considerations in our local housing need calculation. We also, to address the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and others, need to be very clear about the challenge of building tall buildings in places that do not have them and do not want them because they are simply not appropriate.

It is not for me to try to play Santa Claus in this debate. My ministerial portfolio does not include responsibility for the festive season, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to say something soon about local housing need. This debate is focused particularly on the White Paper on planning reform. I am sure all of us will recognise that with so many responses to the consultation, it will take us a while to work through them. We want to do that because it is a genuine consultation, as I have said to colleagues across the Chamber on numerous occasions.

The consultation was not the end of the process of working through our reform proposals; it is the beginning. Through the first several months of next year, we will need to kick off workstreams on specific themes that develop out of the consultation, and to refine our proposals such that they are good and tight for the legislation that must and will come. That will enable us to table a Bill to deliver quickly the planning reforms we want, begin the systemic and cultural change necessary in our planning system, and ensure that the proposals are embedded, with public consent, as quickly as possible.

When I became the Minister with responsibility for housing and planning, I learned how long it took to implement the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, which we rely on for the majority of our planning decisions. I assumed that by 1948 everything was working effectively and quickly and everybody knew what to do. In fact, that particular Act was not fully enforced until the early 1960s. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 took 14 or 15 years to fully roll out. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Localism Act 2011 have still not been fully implemented. My point is that we need to approach this with care, think through our proposals with as much consensus as possible, and ready all the stakeholders in the planning process so that we can effect that cultural and systemic shift. That is our approach and it will remain as such over the coming weeks and months.

We all agree that we must reform our planning system. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) was kind in her remarks: she said that the Government have done very well in building new homes for people over several years. Our target is to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of this decade. That is a manifesto commitment that we will deliver.

The fact is that our present local planning system accounts for only 178,000 new homes a year, so the system must improve. Organisations as disparate as Crisis and KPMG all say that we need to build more than 250,000 homes a year if we are going to meet our needs. Therefore, a system that takes seven years to adopt a local plan, and which can take a further five years to develop large-scale housing and the infrastructure that supports it, is simply not going to build the homes we need.

York has not had a local plan for over 50 years, so we have other difficulties. Does the Minister recognise that it is not just about quantum? Tenure of housing is also important and needs to match the need that is out there.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. It is for local councils and local authorities to determine what sorts of housing they need in their local communities. The whole point of our proposal is to give local authorities and communities much more power to design their communities strategically and holistically, so that they can say where they want homes to be built; the types of homes they want them to be; what they are going to look like; what sort of infrastructure is going to support them; and what the building requirement controls will be.

We want to make sure that we build more affordable housing. Members will know that our affordable homes programme injects £12.2 billion of funds into affordable housing, which is the biggest cash injection in 50 years. More than 50% of the properties that will be built under that programme in the next five years will be for affordable or social rent. Some 32,000 of them will be for social rent—double the number built under the previous programme and substantially more than the number of council houses built in Wales last year. Only 12 council houses were built in Labour-run Wales in 2019. Thanks to its approach to council housing, the Labour party cannot even house a Welsh rugby team in Wales, so we will take no lectures from the Opposition about our approach to affordable housing.

In the short time I have left, let me say a word about the environment, because it is important. Through the Environment Bill, we want to make sure that we offer a net gain in biodiversity. That will form the basis of our approach to housing proposals, as adumbrated in our White Paper, including the future homes standard, which will drive a 75% improvement in carbon emissions from our new housing stock. The green homes grant will invest in and retrofit about 600,000 homes around our country, ensuring that they are more fuel efficient and effective in delivering for their residents.

We are determined to make our proposals work and to ensure that all our colleagues around the House of Commons, of whatever stripe, as well as other stakeholders, understand and support them, whether they be planning professionals, local councillors, local communities with neighbourhood plans—which I am keen to build into our process—or developers, big or small. We are determined to make sure that these plans have the wholehearted support of all those involved in them, because only through that mechanism can we make them work.

Thank you, Ms Ghani. It has been a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the Minister for his comments. He did not fulfil my every Christmas wish, but this has nevertheless been an entertaining and interesting debate, and I value everyone’s contributions. We have heard from representatives of the rural south-west, the urban north, and even the urban south-west, and the theme I am really getting is that planning decisions are incredibly difficult. There is a balance of competing interests; we all know that, and we are all plugged into what is going on in our constituencies.

I also heard that everybody agrees that those decisions are best made at a local level, to take a full account of all of those different factors, and I believe that is the biggest pushback against the planning White Paper in its current form. I repeat what I said at the beginning: it does not make enough progress towards the Government’s plans for net zero. The Minister just said it himself: he is only targeting a 75% reduction. Another point that has come across very strongly is that the White Paper does not give local councils enough powers to deliver the affordable homes that are so desperately needed in every region. However, I thank him very much for his response. Thank you, Ms Ghani, for your chairmanship, and I thank all Members for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Planning for the Future White Paper.

Sitting suspended.