Wokingham Times

The present government has used its powers and its passion for regional planning to demand that districts like Wokingham accommodate large numbers of extra houses in the years ahead. They have done so at a time of unprecedented collapse in the housing market, with record lows for the numbers of new homes being started and completed. They have done so despite the strong feelings in many pleasant parts of the country that there should be some limit on the amount of green space swallowed up, and a further limit on how densely settlements can be packed with homes.

I and my Parliamentary colleagues have argued consistently for two big changes. The first is, we want to see more power granted to local Councils to make local judgements about how many homes should be built in each place. Conservatives have promised to grant more independence to Councils, should we win the Election. We want to cut back on the large amount of unelected regional government which dictates or overrides local democratic feeling on these matters.

The second is we have argued that government targets and requirements have imposed too high a density of new development in inappropriate places, have required too much backland and back garden development where local communities wish to preserve the existing character of the place, and have forced too much green field development. This is eroding gaps between settlements and other areas, and is forcing building on floodplains, when we already have flooding problems.

The result of the present government’s enthusiasm for high targets for new homes and their wish to see many of them imposed on the crowded south-east is the Wokingham Core Strategy. There remain many uncertainties for the planners. Will Arborfield Garrison close on schedule? Will this present government promise anything by way of guaranteed capital money to build the roads, schools and other facilities that large scale development would clearly need? What would it all look like if there were a change of government shortly, and a new administration removed regional dictates and left our community freer to make its own decisions?

The government should think again about its regional strategy in the light of very different circumstances over the provision of mortgage finance and the demand for new homes than in the boom years when the government first conceived the high targets. There is much less real pressure to build today, because mortgage finance is less available and because many people are struggling with their personal budgets. The present government is unlikely to come up with the large sums of new capital needed to make the investment to support large scale South-east development. Any successor government will inherit very strained finances, and will find it equally difficult to produce large extra sums for public spending.

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8 Comments

  1. Posted March 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Ah! The old affordable home conundrum, the answer is quite simple of course, release more land so that building land becomes dirt cheap. It's not that even in overcrowded Britain all available space has been taken it has not. As usual simple is not simple because their are too many vested interests and all of them designed to keep land expensive. You have the green lobby and all the other crack brain lobbies , we know what they want, anything that is not sensible and could under normal circumstances be ignored. Then you have the real problem people who already own there own houses, they will do anything even going to the barricades if you as much as take one penny off the value of their property. So you can huff and you can puff and change every planning law in the country and every way it is administered and you will still be back where you started. Unless you can get existing homeowners on your side and that would require a massive bribe just stamp the file unsolvable and put it away to collect dust.

  2. Posted March 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    John, John, John, for dogs sake. Local councils are more corrupt that your lot. In Poole they allowed a company to pull down a listed building, and only local pub, to build flats, which guess what have still never sold, and now they are going to allow it to be pulled down to be re-build into houses. Oh yeah, Tory bunch down here.
    My mother had a meeting with one, who completely ignored what was printed Fact, and kept on with the standard, it was what was best for the local area.

    Like I told, Di Abbot, and I will tell you. Untill you lot actually understand what the local folks suffer, you will always be considdered a waste of space.

  3. Posted March 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    We have no national shortage of land on which houses could sensibly be built- think of all the nominally agricultural land which is set aside- that is, used for nothing. We do have particular areas occupied by large houses in large grounds, where a large number of owners of such properties seek to maintain the value of their own property by preventing their neighbours from taking full advantage of theirs. This they do through planning restrictions.
    I have a feeling that if such matters were left entirely to local authorities these problems would largely solve themselves- if, and only if, said authorities depended entirely on the council tax income from the residents. Those very rich people able and willing not only to pay the high price of property but also the high burden of council tax entailed in keeping a widely spaced rural atmosphere would gravitate to districts so ordered (and good luck to them). Those less rich, or more thrifty, would go to areas where denser housing was the norm. And nobody would be paying regional or central government planning officials, they'd have to get proper jobs- as would many local planners
    Final point- localism means nothing if it doesn't allow a local authority to act against the wishes of the central government

  4. Posted March 27, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    In Cambridgeshire and Cambridge city, government targets demand huge numbers of houses in areas where it is physically impossible to create the additional infrastructure required. Labour seems to have returned to that mode wherein it realises only the disaffected will vote for it, therefore it will create huge populations of the disaffected by hook or by crook where before there were none.

  5. Posted March 28, 2010 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Restrict tax relief on buy to lets.
    Balance migration with immigration.
    Remove stamp duty so it is a straight % and replace with a annual land tax which can be rolled over until death if needed.

  6. Posted March 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you. The problem from my perspective is that we have to stop people using property as retirement pots and for investment. There is not an unlimited amount of land and therefore people buying two or three houses to rent out is creating a new fuedalism that is pushing up prices and pushing out new buyers. By limiting or taxing second or third homes, this would mean that more properties would be on the market. The free market is fine where there is unlimited land and space but this isn't the UK. If we wish to retain the character and green spaces we have to persuade people to invest in things other than buying extra houses. There is plenty of demand to ensure that there is no crash in prices and hey presto you meet the aspirations of prospective house purchasers. At the same time you do not need such a massive social housing program.

  7. Posted May 7, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Labour seems to have returned to that mode wherein it realises only the disaffected will vote for it, therefore it will create huge populations of the disaffected by hook or by crook where before there were none.

  8. Posted October 21, 2010 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    This is a excellent blog. I have been back more than once during the last 7 days and want to join your rss feed utilizing Google but can’t ascertain how to do it very well. Do you know of any sort of tutorials?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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