Gale's View - 11/04/2018
April 11th 2018
There has, under successive Governments, been a very significant shortfall in the number of annual housebuilding completions required to meet the needs of a growing population. It is a statistical fact that that shortfall extended under the years of the Blair administrations and that the relaxation of immigration controls by Jack Straw as Home Secretary and by Blair as Prime Minister exacerbated the demand as the numbers of incomers from within and out with the European Union increased dramatically.
It would be as facile, though, to blame “immigration” as the source of the problem as it would to try to blame Margaret Thatcher`s “Right to Buy” policy. “Right to Buy” gave to thousands of existing occupiers of properties that were not vacant or available the right to acquire their houses and flats and to become homeowners for the first time. That those properties were not then replaced with more affordable housing and that immigration placed further demands on an inadequate housing stock cannot, though, be denied. The shortage has led to price inflation that has placed home-owning aspirations out of the reach of many young people and the present administration has inherited a real problem that cannot be solved overnight. What is certain is that the UK needs more homes, at every level of the market, as fast as they can practicably be built.
That, though, must not be allowed to impose unrealistic demands upon local authorities that are about to implement their local plans. We need homes, certainly, but we also need the infrastructure to support those homes. Families need access to schools and primary and secondary medical services and social services and employment opportunities and shops and all of the supporting transport facilities, including where necessary the building, upfront, roads to carry construction traffic, that goes with the creation of new estates.
But there is another demand that faces both Thanet and Herne Bay in my constituency as elsewhere and that is the need to protect agricultural land, play space and wildlife habitat. As we leave the European Union we shall need to become more, not less, self-sufficient in food supplies and if we are not to create deserts of accommodation built upon, for example, our aquifers, then we have to be sensitive to the need to provide corridors of open space in which children can play and wildlife can thrive.
We have, in the Housing and Environment Department, men – they both happen to be men – in Dominic Raab (Minister of State for Housing) and Sajid Javid (Secretary of State) who understand the requirement to balance the imperative to provide more homes for those who are inadequately housed and to protect the environment in which we shall all have to live. Our Local Authorities (and Kent County Council, by the way, is not a planning authority) will need to work very closely with Central Government to deliver a joined-up rather than a chaotic piecemeal solution to what, for once, is correctly described as a “crisis” not just of housing but for local communities.
Footnote for those living in Birchington: the consultation on the proposed creation of a Neighbourhood Plan closes on 27th April. The forms delivered to every household can be returned to the Library in Alpha road or, if lost, can be downloaded from www.birchington-pc.gov.uk