Sir George speaks out on Planning
22 Oct 2008
Below is the extract from Hansard of a speech Sir George made on the South East Development Plan

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) for choosing this subject for a debate and for introducing it in such a responsible way. We have had some good speeches in response.

In a way, this is an unreal debate because it is driven by the Government’s target to build 3 million homes by 2020. Hardly anybody in the housing world thinks that that target is achievable, yet that is what is driving the debate. The energy of Ministers in the relevant Department should be focused on building houses on the sites that already have planning consent. They should concentrate on making progress on meeting the housing needs of all those we represent, as opposed to driving these targets based on the 3 million figure.

A long time ago, I was the Minister for housing and planning and took an interest in these matters. The forecasting of households is not an exact science; it is underpinned by some heroic assumptions. I remember having a dialogue with the man who produced the figures. One has to make assumptions about whether a child—someone who is age 20—who has had a row with their parents is entitled to a home of their own. That is a difficult judgment to make, but the forecasts of households depend on such judgments.

Heroic assumptions about inward and outward migration have to be made, and when focusing on the south-east, heroic assumptions have to be made about outward migration from London. Is it right that we should continue to plan for the outward migration from London when many people planning for the future of London want to retain that population there—particularly in relation to those who are likely to migrate outwards? Likewise, there is a debate about whether, given the structure of London, one should focus on the east side of London, where unemployment is highest, or the west side, which is overheated. Some real political and sociological issues underpin this debate.

I start from the premise that everyone is entitled to a decent home. Certainly, in my constituency, a major development area on the eastern side of Andover is going ahead without a lot of aggravation, and we accept that we have a role to play. My view is that one is more likely to get a sensible answer if local people feel that they have ownership of the problem. In a county, district or village, there is resistance if people are told what they have to do. If people are asked about how best to provide for their children, elderly parents, teachers and postmen, they will say, “We have a real responsibility and interest in this.” They will then be much more creative in looking for sites than if they have to find sites because they have been told to do so to accommodate people who are not in the area but who plan to move there.

Let us consider the policy of building on land that would not normally get planning consent—the so-called exceptions policy. People who live in a village will be creative about identifying suitable sites, having a dialogue with the housing association and ensuring that homes are built for local people. However, there will be resistance if people are told by someone from outside, “You have to find sites for another 100 houses and we cannot tell you who will live there.”

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the one thing most liked by local people is the feeling that they can give a home to another local person?

Sir George Young: I agree. In one parish council in my constituency, the village has provided all the homes that they have been told to. They are actually trying to provide more homes by moving the allotments that they own from the middle of the village to the outside because they feel that they have a responsibility to make better housing provision.


I shall leave the Minister with this thought. A top-down approach provokes a reaction, whereas a bottom-up approach does not. One of the Government’s mistakes has been to move to a much more dirigiste, centrally driven planning policy, which perversely makes it more difficult to get the houses that we all want built in the areas in which we need them. I know that the Minister is relatively new in his appointment, but I ask him to begin to put a few question marks against that aspect of the policy. If that happens as a result of this debate, we might have made some real progress.

 
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