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We need more houses – but in the right places

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A national debate is raging over the coalition Government’s plans to cap housing benefit.  The dispute is bringing both Britain’s housing crisis, and deeply divided opinion over proposed planning reforms (NPPF), back into the spotlight.

In the thick of this row, we found ourselves accused in the The Guardian - by CentreForum’s  Tim Leunig - of opposing housebuilding in the south-east where the shortage of affordable homes is so keenly felt.

Our Ben Cowell, assistant director of external affairs, sets the record straight in today’s Guardian letters page:

Good planning for an urban renaissance

Tim Leunig is wrong to assert that the National Trust is opposed to housebuilding in the south-east. We need more houses, but we need them to be built in the right places. We also think more could be done to encourage the reuse of existing houses before we build on greenfield sites. After all, nearly 70,000 homes in London and the south-east have been empty for more than six months.

The government proposes to remove the national thresholds at which affordable housing must be delivered within development schemes. This will surely further damage the provision of housing for those who need it most.”

As we’ve said in our Planning for People manifesto, we believe the NPPF should promote the provision of affordable homes and give a five-year supply of land for housing.

Look out for further thoughts from us on the housing question soon. To join the debate, follow us on Twitter and tweet us using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Kate Joynes-Burgess, our social media & communities manager

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3 thoughts on “We need more houses – but in the right places

  1. Ben ‘set’s the record straight’ in a very wonky way!

    There are currently 62.035 empty homes in the South East and London (latest DCLG figures for 2011) – since when is that “nearly 70,000 homes”? Unless the National Trust has a new rule for how to round up numbers, then Ben Cowell is getting his facts wrong.

    That only makes 0.88% of those regions housing stock – this is a tiny fraction and no where near enough to meet current and projected future demand.

    Get your facts right National Trust, you’re starting to look very sloppy.

    • Thanks for your comments, @Matt. Here is Ben Cowell’s response: “This was not a deliberate attempt to mislead. I was using the information on the Empty Homes Agency website (http://emptyhomes.com/statistics-2/) . It would seem there are more up to date figures, which means the total has happily fallen by a few thousand. This does not, however, eliminate the fact that there is a problem about substantial quantities of homes laying empty for 6 months or more, which was my main point.” We hope that clarifies things!

  2. Thanks for the reply. A couple of points:

    1) The Empty Homes Agency are not an impartial data source, they’re a lobby group for government to tackle the empty homes problem. Someone who knew their housing data would have gone straight to the government source, which is easily accesible via the CLG website. This suggests Ben doesn’t know much about housing.

    2) Why pick Empty Homes as an issue? There are subsantially more second homes, for example, in the South East and London – why didn’t the National Trust highlight tackling second homes, which is an objectively more important ‘stock’ issue? Equally, ‘under occupation’ (single people or couples living in big houses) is far far more important than both of these.

    Both these points highlight two problems with the National Trust’s work on the NPPF and housing.

    The first is that NT does not appear to have any coherent suggestion of how to tackle the housing crisis if it is going to oppose one solution (i.e. planning reform and building new homes). You don’t say where new supply will go if not on green field (and the trade offs involved with alternatives), or what alternative policy measures are needed to deal with the issue if you don’t see a step change in supply (for example increasing tax on second home owners, controlling investment demand or encouraging old people to downsize).

    Instead you are picking political ‘easy’ issues like empty homes, that sound nice, offend no one, but make very little difference. Tougher alternative, but more effective, ‘proposals’ are not raised (presumably because the National Trust doesn’t want to suggest any solution that might offend some people).

    Meanwhile the NT’s oppositionalist position on planning reform is putting the brakes on one very needed response. The NT is slating off government for being prepared to offend people with one proposed solution, but is running away from stepping forward with alternatives. This is power without responsibility par excellence.

    The second is that the National Trust’s housing policy seems to be very dependent on ‘advice’ from external sources (like the Empty Homes Agency) rather than in house housing expertise to address the complex issues involved. This leaves the National Trust taking a strong stance on something it doesn’t know much about – and reliant on people who are not impartial (for example a lot of NT’s positioning seems to come straight from CPRE – which has a long held anti new build position).

    Cue stock response from NT saying ‘we manage estates and therefore know a lot’ – but there is a world of difference between some of your estates managing and building property and your external affairs team based in head office throwing its weight around on a national policy debate based on head office campaign objectives. The truth is that NT, and Ben’s external affairs team in particular, really doesn’t know very much about housing and planning, but isn’t going to let this get in the way of running a major campaign mobilisation.

    For people who care about the fact that high housing costs are a major problem for many people, this is very frustrating.

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