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Wrong on housing, wrong on the countryside

Thursday, 29 November 2012 10:07

Houses on a west Oxfordshire village edge Houses on a west Oxfordshire village edge Photo: © Jane Tomlinson

Planning minister Nick Boles is wrong on housing, wrong on the countryside. His call to increase the urbanised area of England is provocative and unnecessary, and casts a shadow over at least 25% of our undisturbed countryside.

In a speech to the Town & Country Planning Association, Planning Minister Nick Boles calls for an increase in the area of built up land in England to 12% from what he claims is the current figure of 9%. Yet Government figures show that 12% of England’s land area is already built on – the third highest figure in Europe after Belgium and Holland. Research by CPRE has shown that this level of urbanisation has impacts well beyond this area, to the point where only 50% of English countryside is currently perceived to be truly undisturbed by urban intrusion*.

Boles' view is that "All we need to do is build on another 2 to 3% of land and we'll have solved a housing problem" and that"The built environment can be more beautiful than nature". It's hard to know where to start arguing against such ridiculous propositions, but you can be assured that we will! 

While we agree with Nick Boles that we need to build more houses, and that the quality of new house-building should be improved, we disagree that using more and more green land for house-building will solve current problems with the housing market.

The fact is that there are enough previously developed ‘brownfield’ sites already available for 1.5 million new homes in England. Mr Boles should forget about unrealistic think-tank schemes to concrete across the countryside, and make it his priority to do more to redevelop these sites, to reuse empty homes for affordable housing and to pressure house-builders to get on with putting up the 400,000 homes for which they already have planning permission.

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of CPRE, says:

"We do need to build many more new homes in this country and some will have to go on greenfield sites. Nick Boles does not appear to know how much of England is really built on. Nor does he seem to understand that the countryside does not always have to be outstandingly beautiful to be worth protecting. It is equally crucial that people have places to enjoy peace and tranquillity, as the Government’s own National Planning Policy Framework recognises.

"Rather than giving up on good planning and allowing housebuilders to let rip, we should be re-using the tens of thousands of hectares of brownfield land available for high quality affordable housing, and strengthening protection for recognised ‘tranquil’ areas of countryside. That is the best way to a lasting economic recovery".

Shaun Spiers concluded:

"When he was running a think tank, Nick Boles specialised in interesting if somewhat unrealistic ideas. He is no longer an intellectual gadfly. He is a Minister with a serious job and it is time that he got serious".


*www.cpre.org.uk/resources/countryside/tranquil-places/item/1790-developing-an-intrusion-map-of-england. Government figures taken from the Barker Review of Land Use Planning interim report.

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