James Brokenshire is Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup.
Building the homes that Britain needs was never going to be an easy challenge, but this week we’ve taken a major step forward with the publication of the new National Planning Policy Framework.
The message it sends is clear and direct; we want the right number of homes built in the right places. Central to this is voice of local communities. They should be able to determine not only the right number of homes for their area, but how they fit in. Local communities now have a greater influence over the look and feel of new developments, and this should be celebrated.
As Sir Roger Scruton notes: “Architecture is a public art: whether we like it or not, we are forced to witness it.” Councils and developers need to focus on making sure the quality and design of homes is in line with what local communities want. The new planning changes mean we can now ensure councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for new developments that don’t prioritise design quality or complement its surroundings.
Alongside this commitment to better and earlier conversations with local people over the quality and design of new homes, we’ve made additional significant changes.
We’ve introduced stronger safeguards for the environment, strengthening protections for the green belt, ancient woodland and local wildlife sites. By aligning with the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, planning can now help to leave the environment in a better state for future generations. This means more protection for habitats and places greater importance on air quality when deciding development proposals.
We’ve created more certainty over what can be built and where, helping to speed up and reduce the cost of planning. And we’ve introduced greater responsibility and accountability for councils and developers to ensure we hit our ambitious target of new homes for future generations.
But building the homes future generations need means taking tough decisions, and being clear on what government expects. If we want to create a new generation of homeowners we have to tackle affordability. This is why we have introduced a new way for councils to calculate the housing need of their local community (including different forms of housing, such as older people’s retirement homes).
This means the number of new homes we build won’t be based on what a developer thinks they can sell but on the real needs of local communities. For those on lower and middle incomes, we need to build the sort of affordable homes which help people to build deposits so they can enjoy the security of ownership and realise the dream of having a place of their own to call home.
There are few more contentious issues in politics than planning, and it is because of this it is so crucial for our country we get it right. The new planning framework ensures the quantity of homes must never compromise the quality of what is built.
We have listened to the tens of thousands of people who told us their views. This really is a shared strategy for building new homes in England. I have been clear it is our ambition to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, which follows 217,000 homes built last year, the biggest increase in housing supply in England for almost a decade. To do this we need a planning system fit for the future, and we’ve taken a big step toward achieving just that.