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Nick Boles MP (Planning Minister)

In his keynote address, Planning Minister Nick Boles MP, spoke about government priorities in relation to housing, planning and the economy.

Here, he shares his thoughts on the subject and argues how it is vital that we increase the number of homes built in order to meet the needs of an increasing population.
It is vital this country increases the number of homes it builds to meet the needs of its increasing population. The failure to build enough homes over previous decades has led to a severe housing shortage that has been made worse by the rapid increase in the number of households. The number of people living alone has rocketed, and immigration has led to an influx of 1.7 million people into England in the last decade. That is why we are committed to bringing immigration levels under control and reducing net migration to sustainable levels, to the tens of thousands a year rather than the hundreds of thousands.

All of these changes have happened and all of the people concerned have the right to a decent home. We have invested £160 million to deal with the 250,000 homes empty for more than 6 months - 50,000 fewer then in 2009. This money combined with a share of £300 million announced in September’s housing growth package, will help put more than 15,000 empty homes back into use by 2015.

But, in the long term, the original source of our housing crisis is the failure of past governments to provide enough land for development and, as Planning Minister, it is my job to persuade local authorities to make more land available so that more homes can be built and thereby reverse the trend that has been heading in the wrong direction for decades.

The Government has made clear that planning should encourage the effective use of land, including brownfield land that is not of high environmental value. The majority of all new homes - 76% of those completed in 2010 - were built on brownfield land. But this will not be enough and some undeveloped land will need to be made available for house-building. We also need to keep the amount of development in perspective; 8.9% of England is built up, compared to 40% being covered by protective designations, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt.

Relatively little land would be needed to address the shortage of housing for the foreseeable future. I am not setting out any target, or plan, of what might need to happen over the next 20 or 30 years. There is no policy on the amount of additional land that needs to be developed, and this Government does not set top-down Whitehall housing targets. But England has an acute housing need and we have not built enough new homes to meet that need for many years.

The National Planning Policy Framework provides strong protection for the countryside, and we have no intention of changing that. The Framework expects great weight to be given to conserving landscape and scenic beauty in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  These areas, together with National Parks and the Broads, have the highest status of protection in the planning system in relation to landscape and scenic beauty. 

I certainly do not want to see more open land developed than is absolutely necessary, but we have a simple choice. We can decide to ignore the misery of young families forced to grow up in tiny flats with no outside space, and of working men and women in their twenties and thirties who have to live with their parents or share bedrooms with friends. Or we can accept that we are going to have to build on some previously undeveloped land and resolve that we will make these decisions locally and build beautiful places like we used to.

Read other comments and observations from the event:

Prof Martin Boddy (UWE / SWO)

Prof Glen Bramley (Heriot Watt)

Paul Swinney (Centre for Cities)

Karuna Tharmananthar (West of England)

Simon Prescott (Barton Willmore)