William Wragg MP demands greater protection for greenbelt from Government

William Wragg MP, has called directly on Government for greater protection of the greenbelt and a change in approach to planning policy.

William today made an official submission to the public consultation on the Government’s Housing White Paper, which seeks to solve the issue of the housing shortage, and improve planning policy. In his submission William argues for a more practical approach to planning with improved means of setting local housing targets and strengthened protections for our greenbelt. William also said we need to effectively address slow housing delivery rates and ‘land banking’.

William Wragg has long been a champion of protecting local greenbelt, particularly from the current threat posed to it by large scale housing developments which are currently in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – the brain-child of the Labour controlled Combined Authority. The draft framework proposes the release of huge swathes of greenbelt land, in order to build in excess of 200,000 homes by 2030, including 4,000 in the village of High Lane in our area.

During his last two years as the MP for Hazel Grove, William has organised a huge petition of thousands of residents, hosted debates in the House of Commons, challenged the Prime Mister at Question Time, and made policy suggestions to the Government.

 

Today, in his response to the Department for Communities and Local Government consultation exercise, William argued:  

“Housing targets must be genuinely deliverable and realistic. This is a practical approach over an ambition based one. We must distinguish between the homes that are essential to meet pressing local needs and homes that it would be nice to have in order to satisfy economic growth aspirations. We should prioritise delivery of the former.

There should not be vast and unrealistic targets set, which are not base on evidencable need, and which cannot be supported by local availability of sites or infrastructure capacity, as has been the case for example with the ongoing Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.”

 

He also suggested to the Government’s consultation:

“In order to further protect green belt, we should prioritise use of brownfield sites in urban areas ahead of new sites. There should be a national strategy for land use so that we can make best use of under-used brownfield land in urban areas across England, and link this with investment in new transport infrastructure, while maintaining the integrity of protected areas and directing large scale development away from them….

“Most importantly, neither local nor nationally imposed housing targets should, in and of themselves alone, be considered as sufficient to meet the ‘exceptional circumstances’ criteria for redesignation of green belt and other protected land.”

 

Commenting further after making his official submission, William said:

“We of course need to provide new homes in order to solve the housing shortage. I am not against house building; but I believe brownfield sites which have had development on them previously, should be prioritised for the building of houses, and not green belt. We must protect green belts from over-zealous local authority plans.

“Local people know that I have been fighting on this issue for several years. They also know that I am not afraid to stand up to the Government and even to the Prime Minister as I did in February. That is why I felt it was important to make a formal submission to the public consultation today in order to re-inforce the work I have been doing elsewhere.

“The strength of feeling is clear: Greenbelt land should be protected from residential development and brownfield sites should be prioritised instead. I will continue to represent local people and work to protect our greenbelt. I wish to thank everyone who has supported my campaign so far.”

 

The public consultation on Government’s Housing White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market” remains open until 2nd May 2017 (next Tuesday). For more information see the consultation website https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fixing-our-broken-housing-market-consultation

 

Local residents wishing to support William's campaign to PROTECT OUR GREENBELT are able to find out more and show your support for our Greenbelt by SIGNING THE PETITION HERE: http://www.williamwraggmp.wixsite.com/protectourgreenbelt

 

 

William Wragg MP’s full detailed submission to Government’s Housing White Paper, can be found below.

 

Planning Policy Consultation Team

Department for Communities and Local Government

Third Floor, Fry Building

2 Marsham Street

SW1P 4DF

Wednesday, 26th April 2017

 

 

William Wragg MP - Submission on Government Housing White Paper

 

Please accept this as my submission to the Government Housing White Paper “Fixing our broken housing market” which I make here, in preference to the online pro forma. I am responding solely in my capacity as the Member of Parliament for the Hazel Grove Constituency.

I believe the Housing White Paper should take into account the following points if it to be successful in its ambition of reforming the British housing market: 

  1. We need an improved means of setting local housing targets
  2. We need strengthened protections for our green belt
  3. We need to effectively address slow housing delivery rates and ‘land banking’

 

1. Housing targets must be genuinely deliverable and realistic

Realistic housing targets should be identified for local areas, taking into account the numbers of homes that can be built, based on the following:

  • the availability of suitable development sites
  • appropriate protection for land where development should not take place
  • the capacity and willingness of the development industry to deliver the planned homes.

This is a practical approach over an ambition based one. We must distinguish between the homes that are essential to meet pressing local needs and homes that it would be nice to have in order to satisfy economic growth aspirations. We should prioritise delivery of the former.

There should not be vast and unrealistic targets set, which are not base on evidencable need, and which cannot be supported by local availability of sites or infrastructure capacity, as has been the case for example with the ongoing Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

Finally as well as avoiding over inflation on numbers of homes in targets, the types of homes should be matched it terms of affordability, type and tenure to the needs of the local market and should not attempt to shift or nudge the market in a particular direction.

 

2. Strengthened protections for our green belt and precious landscapes

 

William Wragg, Hazel Grove:

What assurances can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents that the green belt is safe with this Government?

Theresa May, Prime Minister:

I am happy to give that commitment to my hon. Friend. The Government are very clear that the green belt must be protected. We are very clear that boundaries should be altered only when local authorities have fully examined all other reasonable options.

Hansard, Engagements, 22 February 2017, Volume 621 Column 1014

 

Local authorities and combined metropolitan authorities, such as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, need to be empowered to fully take into account the existence of designated protections when allocating sites for development and then able to amend their targets accordingly.

Central Government should support councils who choose to reduce their housing requirements where policies of constraint apply in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, such as by approving local plans of councils who have taken this approach and defending them in planning appeals.

Government should taking a firmer line against proposals to revise green belt boundaries, or redesignate green belt for development, or identify land for development within protected areas, such as by questioning councils when their local plan proposes to revise boundaries without proper justification and by fully examining planning appeals for development in protected areas. Most importantly, neither local nor nationally imposed housing targets should, in and of themselves alone, be considered as sufficient to meet the ‘exceptional circumstances’ criteria for redesignation of green belt and other protected land.

 

“There is still plenty of other land to build on without having to concrete over swathes of our precious green belt.”

Housing and Planning Minister, Gavin Barwell, CPRE Annual Lecture, 20 February 2017

 

In order to further protect green belt, we should prioritise use of brownfield sites in urban areas ahead of new sites. There should be a national strategy for land use so that we can make best use of under-used brownfield land in urban areas across England, and link this with investment in new transport infrastructure, while maintaining the integrity of protected areas and directing large scale development away from them.

For instance, Greater Manchester has at least 1,000 hectares of brownfield land spread across more than 400 sites which have not yet been fully developed for housing, enough to build at least 55,000 homes, and it is likely more such land can be found. The Government’s Brownfield register has been helpful in identifying such sites, but as yet this identification is not translating into planning permissions or building, with developers favouring greenfield sites. As developing greenfield sites present fewer practical challenges than on brownfield they are more attractive and profitable for developers. However if we make sites in the green belt available now, the volume house builders will develop these first, and then they will come back for more green belt land before they even look at urban land. Therefore the opportunity for real regeneration in our urban areas will be lost for a generation.

Government, Councils, and house builders must re-double their efforts to make the best use of readily available brownfield land and to start to plug the housing gap, and to reduce or even remove the need to build on the green belt.

In addition, development on green belt land should be further discouraged and by converse brownfield incentivised, by making the New Homes Bonus not payable for homes constructed on greenfield sites in protected areas - councils or combined authorities should not be rewarded for flouting national conservation policies.

 

3. Effectively address slow housing delivery rates and ‘land banking’

House building is taking place at far too slow a rate leading to a chronic housing shortage. The process of holding land, often with planning permission and not building on it is known as 'land banking'. This inflates prices and makes it harder for people, particularly younger people, to get on the housing ladder.

Shockingly the it has been reported that in England and Wales there are over 645,000 vacant plots, almost all on brownfield sites, with planning permission, and ready to build on, but where no works have begun on site. This is enough to build over half of the Government's target of 1million new homes, and with the housing shortage as deep as it is cannot be allowed to continue.

I have discovered, with the help of the Local Government Association, that here in my own borough of Stockport as of March 2015 there were 1,900 such brownfield sites where planning permission is already granted and yet where nothing is being built - and that was almost double the amount of sites from two years previously. It is right to get homes on all these sites before we start carving up the green belt as the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework seeks to do.

On the issue of housing deliver targets; presently, councils are expected to meet their housing requirements and are held to account by whether than can demonstrate that they have five-year supply of land available for housing. Because housing targets are usually set significantly higher than the rate at which the industry can possibly deliver new homes (see above), it is very hard for councils to maintain a 5-year supply of housing land for longer than a few months. If a council dips below its five-year supply, even for a moment, the local area is then open to speculative planning applications. The Housing White Paper helpfully proposes that the five-year supply can now only be assessed once a year, thereby reducing the risk of undesirable speculative developments.

In addition, The Housing White Paper has proposed a ‘housing delivery test’ by which measures would be bought forward that would force councils to release more land if they fail to meet their (often-undeliverable) housing targets. This is problematic however because the proposed measures in the instances of under-delivery are based on a faulty premise that availability of land is the problem and release of land is the solution to slow housing delivery.

Similarly while the Housing White Paper indicates that councils be granted additional powers which aim to ‘hold developers to account’ such as to revoke planning permission when completion does not materialise. In theory, this sounds good, but would only result in the councils having to identify another site for housing (i.e. releasing more land from green belt).

Practical steps which could reduce land banking and which could be adopted by the Government include ensuring housing targets should be set at achievable rates in the first instance. Additionally, the rate of delivery of homes should be a matter of agreement between councils and developers, with failure to deliver on behalf of developers, instead of revoking the permission entirely – as the White Paper currently proposes - it should result in alternative builders (including SMEs and self- and custom-builders) being invited to complete a project.

 

Finally, we of course need to provide new homes in order to solve the housing shortage. I am not against house building; but I believe brownfield sites which have had development on them previously, should be prioritised for the building of houses, and not green belt. This not only protects the green belt, but focuses development where regeneration is needed and where the necessary infrastructure already exists.

 

 

William Wragg MP

Member of Parliament for Hazel Grove Constituency