Given the interest in the Government’s recently announced planning reform proposals please see the below letter from Gillian Keegan MP that she has sent in response to constituent enquiries.
A number of constituents have contacted me about these proposals and I understand the high level of concern about what they may mean for our area.
The central issue with the proposals, as they currently stand, is with the formula used to calculate the local housing need. This ‘Algorithm’ utilises an ‘affordability ratio’ of homes in the area as its basis. The affordability ratio is a calculation that considers average house pricing against average salaries. This means that the most dense or expensive areas relative to local incomes will receive the greatest uplift in house building targets. In Chichester, the average house price is £356,000, 33.8% greater than the average price of £235,673 across the UK as whole, and the ratio of prices compared to incomes is a multiple of 11. As we are sandwiched between our beautiful protected landscapes of Chichester Harbour and the South Downs National Park, this also means our developable land is proportionally small. Consequently, the formula within the present proposals appears to create the risk of an overly developed strip spanning east-to-west across our area. This is compounded further because the Algorithm also does not appear to account for several important characteristics unique to our area including flood plains, agricultural land, and green corridors that are central to supporting local wildlife.
As such, it is clear that further work needs to be done to refine this formula and ensure that it takes a more nuanced view when generating housebuilding targets that takes account of our unique landscape and circumstances. Since these proposals were published in August, I have been working to ensure these concerns are heard by those at the highest levels of Government.
I have spoken directly with Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State at the Ministry for Housing before following up in writing with a letter. On 7th September, I attended an adjournment debate to show my support for the points raised by neighbouring West Sussex MPs who had secured a backbench debate on this issue. Unfortunately, ministers are not permitted to speak in these debates, but I was pleased to support calls to ensure infrastructure investment keeps pace with development, a concern I’ve raised time and again, especially in relation to sewage works, roads and access to GP surgeries.
However, we should also remember that there is a clear need for more homes as our population grows and our life expectancy increases, as well having more people living alone. I still believe the Government’s proposals promise to help more people realise the dream of a home of their own. For decades, we have not built enough of the right kinds of homes meaning we have nearly 88,000 families including 128,000 children in unsatisfactory temporary accommodation, and anyone who has engaged with the planning system will know how slow and complicated this process can be. Chichester District Council currently have a very difficult job as it remains almost impossible to balance the need for housing with the views of those who are concerned about aspects of development locally.
The proposals promise to revitalise the planning process and to help communities decide what gets built where. Through local democratic agreement, land will be designated under the categories of growth, renewal or protection. Every area will also need to have a local plan in place for building more homes. Land designated for growth will allow new homes, schools, shops and hospitals to be permitted as long as they meet local design and quality standards. Renewal areas will be provided with a 'permission in principle' approach subject to checks and balances with an emphasis on high quality that meets design standards. Our heritage sites and green spaces will continue to be protected and preserved for the enjoyment of local communities and future generations, with development taking place on brownfield sites.
The main ambition of the new proposals is to make the planning process quicker and simpler, whilst increasing transparency and without compromising on safeguards for our green-belts and protected areas such as Chichester Harbour and the South Downs National Park. The renewal and redevelopment of brownfield sites is a concept always spoken about but never done. The proposals look to cut red tape and make redevelopment of brownfield sites attractive to developers, whilst also creating high-quality homes that people will want to live in. In any case, local authorities will retain the right to specify strict requirements and limits for development in Growth and Renewal areas which will be made clear in their Local plan. These could include site or area-specific requirements, such as height limits, scale, or density limits.
However, it is also important that we take a multi-faceted approach to address the need for new homes. I am supportive of the Government’s recent announcement of £12.2 billion for affordable homes which looks to deliver 180,000 homes through shared-ownership and discounted rent, including Affordable and Social Rents which will support Housing Associations to provide more homes to families at 50-60% of the market rate. This is alongside reforms that look to make the process of progressing from shared-ownership onto-full ownership more manageable for those who want to own their home entirely.
I can assure you that I will continue my ongoing work with Chichester District Council and the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government to ensure our case is made and I’m pleased that the Housing Minister and the wider department are keen to listen to these concerns and have welcomed the perspectives of MPs in West Sussex.
I would, of course, encourage anyone with an interest in the proposals to make their views known as well. The Government has launched a consultation on its ‘Planning for the Future’ document which will run until 29 October 2020. You can find further information about the proposals and how to contribute to this consultation at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future
Office of Gillian Keegan MP
Member of Parliament for Chichester
020 7219 8292 | 07515 630 559