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Villages and towns ‘under siege’: Communities fight back!

Friday, 10 June 2016 09:56

Many of our local towns and villages are facing the prospect of hundreds of new houses on their doorsteps, and local planning authorities seem powerless to prevent them. Local communities feel that their voices aren’t being heard in important decisions being made about the countryside they treasure. Proposed changes to planning policy could make this situation even worse.

CPRE Avonside Director, Sophie Spencer, was interviewed recently on Made in Bristol TV about the housing crisis, and developer calls to open up Green Belt land to development. This short piece is available on catch up (29th April) at www.madeinbristol.tv. CPRE Avonside believes that the current pressure to weaken our planning system will likely result in less truly affordable housing, not more, in unsustainable locations. At the same time, it will destroy countryside that is highly valued by local people. Developers are less likely to build affordable housing on brownfield sites in cities, if they know they can get planning permission for large market housing on more profitable greenfield sites.

What do we want?

CPRE is campaigning to protect our beautiful countryside, to retain affordable housing for those on lower incomes, for a neighbourhood right of appeal, and for priority for brownfield sites. We want:

  • Housebuilding targets based on realistic assessment of what developers and local authority are likely to deliver.
  • Developers to work with local planning authorities to bring forward suitable brownfield sites.
  • Developers to build out sites – within an agreed timescale once they get planning permission, or face financial penalties.

Unrealistic housing targets threaten our countryside

Local Planning Authorities are under pressure to meet high targets for building new houses. CPRE research shows that current housing targets across the country are, on average:

  • 30% higher than projected growth
  • 50% higher than the average build out rate of the last 15 years.

Locally, the West of England Spatial Plan is proposing around 80,000 new houses in this area. This is an increase of 29,000 on existing housing targets. The results of high housing targets are:

  • Developers demand that more profitable greenfield land is released to meet fantasy housing targets.
  • Local authorities give planning permission for new housing, but have no control over when they will be built.
  • Developers build out the most profitable sites, slowly.
  • Brownfield sites go to waste.
  • Communities lose faith in the system.

What’s the impact on the countryside?

Even in the Green Belt, which has higher protection than ‘ordinary’ (although still much loved) countryside, the amount of housing development being allowed is rapidly increasing. New Government proposals will make national planning policy more supportive of building in the Green Belt. This will seriously undermine countryside protection, as well as the ability of communities to focus attention on urban brownfield opportunities and the benefits they bring:

  • 275,000 houses have been proposed on the Green Belt in various local plans.
  • This is an increase of 50,000 on last year, and 200,000 since 2012.
  • The country’s biggest housebuilders are sitting on enough land to build at the very minimum 600,000 new houses (Guardian, 2015)

What’s the impact on affordable housing?

At the moment nationally, only 8% housing in the countryside is ‘affordable’ and 20% in urban areas. The West of England Spatial Plan recognises that there needs to be a huge increase in the amount of affordable housing building. Unfortunately, there are not clear mechanisms to achieve this. If Government proposed changes go ahead, this will only get more difficult. Most English villages are likely to become unaffordable to anyone on an average rural wage. Government proposals to allow tenants right to buy housing association properties, and forced sale of council houses, will further reduce amount of social housing available.

The planning system is the wrong ‘target’

Statistics show that the planning system is not holding back housebuilding. CPRE figures show that the numbers of houses being approved by planners is well above the numbers being completed or started. The gap is growing rather than shrinking. Building on greenfields is not the answer to getting houses built quickly. Our latest research shows that brownfield sites are, on average, built out more than six months quicker than greenfield once they have planning permission (Glenigan/CPRE March 2016). CPRE has identified room for at least a million homes on suitable brownfield sites. (UWE 2014)

  • Housing approvals are up yet housing completions and starts are down.
  • Housebuilders aren’t building out the permissions they’ve got.
  • Brownfield land is quicker to develop for housing than greenfield

CPRE is campaigning to influencing Government

Last year the Prime Minister told CPRE president Andrew Motion:

‘Green Belt land is extremely precious. Protecting the lungs around our cities is paramount for me … Councils are exempt from meeting local housing need if constraints like Green Belt make it impossible’David Cameron.

Yet, the Government is consistently attacking the planning system in the mistaken belief that this will alleviate the housing crisis. But, planning is not the problem. CPRE believes that a strong planning system is key to:

  • Better protection for our countryside ensuring that previously-developed brownfield sites are used first.
  • Giving communities a fair say through a planning system that gives local people a stronger voice.
  • Building more of the right housing – in the right places to provide affordable homes in sustainable locations.

Some signs of hope

CPRE has been campaigning at local and national level to improve the way the planning system can protect local countryside, involved local communities and deliver affordable housing in the right places.

Locally we are campaigning to influence local planning policies and new sub regional planning (the West of England), through meetings with local MPs, Planning Officers, Councillors and Campaign Groups. We have submitted comments to the West of England Joint Spatial Plan and Transport Plan (please emailThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like a copy). We expect more detail on the Spatial Plan this summer.

There has opportunity to influence the Planning System at the national level with a consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework, and the Housing and Planning Bill (now Act) that has been discussed in the House of Commons and Lords. Following CPRE’s submissions we have seen some support for a Neighbourhood Right of Appeal, changes to proposals on affordable, rural housing, and a recent shift in policy towards prioritising brownfield sites. The new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill announced in the Queen’s speech on the 18th May indicate a commitment from Government to empower local communities. There are also indications that the Government is putting Green Belt protection at the top of its agenda. However, we will continue to campaign on these and other areas that concern us. We are await the outcome of the NPPF consultation, expected in July. CPRE have produced a new planning document that sets out what the current problems are with our planning system, available here.

You can help by writing to your MP to let them know your concerns. If you visit our national website, this is all set up to allow you to directly email your MP and add optional detail on any local concerns you may have.

Our campaigning work needs your help, and becoming a member is the best way to support our work. If you know anyone who would like to join, please join us.

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