In 2021, we find ourselves at a crossroads when it comes to housing; what do we need, where do we need it and how is it built. There are a number of issues at play, but the simple reality is that we need more housing stock.
As part of the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced their intention to bring forward a Planning Bill in order to “create a simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, and ensuring we no longer remain tied to procedures designed for the last century”.
Local input into planning decisions is to be removed for areas designated as ‘Growth Zones’. This would drastically reduce democratic involvement in the planning system, and it would mean there would be many developments over which local people would have no say at all. That can’t be right, and I will be lobbying to stop it. There would be no planning application to object to.
I am certainly in favour of a more efficient planning system, but it needs to have the right levels of checks and balances in place to ensure that the right sort of housing is being built- in the right place and to meet local needs. Currently, the system enables developers to build ‘executive homes’ by claiming they are unable to afford to build other types of housing. Therefore, we end up with housing that is neither affordable nor suits the housing needs of the local population.
To those who say that they’re justified in building these types of home because they get purchased almost immediately, it’s missing the point. By building a wider variety of housing (e.g. younger, single and elderly people looking to downsize), you free up the existing ‘executive’ housing stock for those looking for that type of housing, mainly families.
Housing is the number one issue that my team and I are encountering through casework at the moment, be it social housing, renters or landlords. When it comes to social housing, the simple reality is that there isn’t enough housing stock for those who need it. However creative the Council might be in rearranging the deckchairs, without increased stock the problem will remain.
When it comes to the private rental market, the amount of stock available is virtually now non-existent here in South Devon. Houses are literally being marketed by word of mouth and being snapped up without people even viewing the property. I welcome the moves to provide greater protection to tenants when it comes to spurious landlords, but I do believe we have to be careful it doesn’t turn too far in the other direction. It should always be perfectly legitimate for landlords to be able to remove tenants that are problematic and also have the ability to sell the property if they need to.
One of the biggest complaints I receive from constituents is the terrible quality of some of the new homes being built with some having a huge number of faults that go way beyond minor snagging issues. There needs to be far greater accountability mechanisms put in place to ensure that developers (almost always the larger companies) are held to account and taken to task on the frankly shocking housing stock they are building. One such measure to improve standards would be for the Government to provide greater support for local builders who want to develop in their local communities.
This Government has committed to ‘building back better’ post-pandemic. In order for that to be realised we need to build more houses of the right type and in the right place, we need to be backing those looking to get onto the property ladder, tenants, and landlords and we need to be building a better quality of housing.
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