My Lords, the Government’s policy, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, is that councils should have plans in place that meet their housing and development needs. These will vary across the country, depending on local circumstances and demands.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on not answering my Question at all. The first half of my Question is to ask the Government whether the statement by the Planning Minister, Mr Boles, in recent days that the amount of countryside that will need to be built on is such as to increase the amount of built-up area in England by one-third. Was he giving his own opinion or was he speaking as a Minister and giving government policy?
My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Planning was drawing attention to the fact that this country is going to require an enormous amount of new building of houses if it is to meet anything like the demand that exists. I think that he would be the first to say that he does not know whether that will require 2% or 3% more land, but he was saying that more land will be needed to build the houses that we require.
My Lords, a couple of weeks ago the Telegraph newspaper claimed that it had established that more than 9,000 acres of land—an area the size of the city of Gloucester—is to be removed from the green belt by local authorities following the coalition’s planning reforms, and that at least 40% of councils with green belt land in their areas have already redrawn or planned to alter the boundaries of the protected areas in an attempt to meet demand for housing and development. Is that correct, and does it have the Government’s support?
My Lords, we have made it clear all along and all through the discussions on the National Planning Policy Framework that we support the retention of the green belt, which lies between and separates out major conurbations so that there is not one continuous string of developments. It will be up to local authorities to decide whether they need and have support to develop into any of their green belt, but by and large the Government’s policy is to retain the green belt, as it is a very important aspect.
My Lords, a few weeks ago Mr John Hayes earned great praise by saying that although he could not build Jerusalem he wanted to defend England’s green and pleasant land. Would it not be a good idea if Mr Boles studied that remark and its implications and realised that that is the policy that we support, which ties in with the Government’s policy announced last year, and which would not result in east and west bank settlements all over our land?
My Lords, that is a little bit unfair, if I may say so. We all recognise that we need more housing and that there are different parts of the country where housing will be needed. We all recognise that there are different sorts of land that will be required to meet the housing needs in any particular area. But we still maintain that the green belt should be retained; it is a very important part of ensuring that our countryside remains open. My honourable friend was drawing our attention not only to the amount of land that is needed but to the need to ensure that we have decently designed houses with a little bit more space than at the moment.
My Lords, the first priority in the National Planning Policy Framework is for brownfield land to be developed. Not all brownfield land is appropriate for housing; not all brownfield land is cheap for development and housing. Nevertheless, it remains a priority for local authorities to look at what brownfield land they have and develop it. However, brownfield land is primarily in city centres and, as noble Lords have often pointed out in this House, there are requirements for housing in rural areas as well.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, even when land is available and planning consent has been given, the houses still need to be built? Does she agree that lifting the cap on local authorities’ ability to borrow against their housing stock would go a very significant way towards enabling such houses to be built? Is she aware that London Councils has calculated that if that cap was lifted, 54,000 new homes could be provided in London alone? Are the Government going to act on this?
My Lords, it is a matter for the Chancellor whether the cap is lifted on local authority borrowing. It is not something that I can enter into at the moment. Local authorities know their limitations as far as prudential borrowing is concerned at present.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that a very good way of minimising the take of land, while maximising the number of people who are housed, is by building retirement apartments? The people who move into those retirement apartments—which are much better for them—often vacate three-bedroom or four-bedroom houses. Did she note the statistic in the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People last week that 85,000 homes for older people would actually lead to 400,000 people being housed because of the homes that they vacate?
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the HAPPI 2 report, which introduced these figures. Yes, of course, it would be ideal for older people to have housing that is absolutely suitable to their needs and built especially for them. It would remove the possibility that they are living in family housing that is too big for them and hard to cope with. It is right that those statistics mean that there would be more housing for families under those circumstances.