James Sunderland speaks in the debate on the Queen’s Speech

James Sunderland calls for a new planning formula that focuses on residual land availability as a percentage of the total area to avoid eroding what is left of our green belt and open spaces.


James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

Back to housing, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I welcome the Queen’s Speech last week and remain very enthused by what lies ahead in the Planning Bill. There is no question but that the UK needs to build more affordable homes. In my humble opinion, we should all aspire to a much higher rate of home ownership so that everyone can take an equity share in their future. Having a place to live that we call home is surely one of the most fundamental rights that we have.

The Government are really investing in this. We have a new £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, a new mortgage guarantee scheme, discounts for first-time buyers, the abolition of section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 on no-fault evictions, the extra £140 million in discretionary housing payments, plus much more. It is a good news story.

However, the thrust of my argument today is that while there is a clear need for new housing, it needs to be in areas that have the capacity to absorb it. To put it bluntly, it cannot be at the expense of the quality of life that our constituents enjoy, notably in the south-east, and it must not include building on the green belt, eroding what is left of our open spaces or ripping the heart out of our rural communities. I therefore urge the Government to take note of what my constituents in Bracknell and Wokingham are telling me.

In Bracknell Forest, a total of 1,688 new houses were built last year, a 123% increase over the previous year. Of those, 404—23% of the overall target—are affordable homes, with 125 for affordable home ownership and 279 for affordable rent, as well as 107 new houses for the elderly. So we are doing it, but it is wrong that councils should be forced to build on whatever scraps of land are left over. It is a similar picture in Wokingham, where the council was almost powerless to stop the activities of speculative developers.

I therefore urge the Government please to consider the following. The ripping up of the Lichfield table was a welcome step, but I would now propose a new formula that focuses on residual land availability as a percentage of the total area. If there is nothing left in a constituency except for residual farmland, golf courses or school playgrounds, do not build on it. We must also build on urban and brownfield sites, and we should build up, not out. Areas such as the midlands, the north-west and the north-east are full of such potential development sites and investment is needed there.

I am led to believe that up to 1 million homes across the UK are currently unoccupied. Councils must make the best use of them. Permissions for a further 1 million homes have already been granted too, so let us do this with a time limit. We also need extra protections for farmland, so let us please impose punitive and progressive taxes on those who seek to build on what is left of it in our constituencies. To be frank, the net zero argument is daft. If we concrete over trees, fields and hedgerows and then plant a few daisies, do not be surprised if the oxygen stops flowing.

We must allow our councils to honour existing local plans and not have extra targets forced upon them. We need to allow them the autonomy to say no and give our communities a proper voice. Democratic consent must therefore be implicit in any new Bill, and it must not become a weapon for the big state. Finally, there is no moral justification for concreting over our green and pleasant land with yet more dark satanic mills. Not only will we continue to haemorrhage loyal voters who have simply had enough, as we saw last week in the council elections, but we will never get that land back, so let us please ensure that the Planning Bill becomes what we would wish it to be.