Open land can solve housing shortage, says minister

A housing estate

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Increasing the amount of developed land by a third would address the housing shortage, according to Planning Minister Nick Boles.

He told BBC Newsnight building on another 2-3% of the land in England - bringing the total to about 12% - would "solve the housing problem."

Mr Boles said open land would be built on in exchange for commitments to defend greenbelt spaces.

He called for "beautiful" housing that was sensitive to its local area.

In his first interview about his portfolio since he entered government, Mr Boles has reopened the debate over how much more housing Britain needs and where.

Describing current housebuilding as "ugly rubbish", he argued that improved design might persuade local communities currently opposed to more development to support further building.

"The built environment can be more beautiful than nature and we shouldn't obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open - sometimes buildings are better," he said.

To this end, the minister says that new housing will not be on the greenbelt, but he does say that open land will be targeted.

Planning Minister Nick Boles: "People have got to accept that we've got to build more on some open land"

"We're going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have to accept we need to build more on some open land.

"In the UK and England at the moment we've got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we'll have solved a housing problem."

Mr Boles also told Newsnight that having a house with a garden was a "basic moral right, like healthcare and education".

"There's a right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in," he said.

Controversial proposals

After a battle over planning reform, in the spring the government and a range of opponents appeared to reach a truce. Now Mr Boles has set out what the government's proposals will entail.

He was made planning minister by David Cameron in the September reshuffle and is a well-known proponent of liberalising planning regulations in Britain.

Before his appointment, in a speech to Tory colleagues, he had described opponents of the government's planning reforms as "scaremongering Luddites".

But his plans will be controversial with his Conservative colleagues.

In recent weeks, Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi has reacted angrily to the adjudication by Secretary of State for Communities Eric Pickles, who oversees planning, to give the go-ahead to a greenfield development on the edge of Stratford-upon-Avon.


There was also local unhappiness in Winchester when Mr Pickles approved a development at Barton Farm.

"It's my job to make the arguments to these people that if they carry on writing letters, their kids are never going to get a place with a garden to bring up their grandkids," said Mr Boles.

"I accept we haven't been able to persuade them. I think it would be easier if we could persuade them that the new development would be beautiful."

Talking about the historic town of Stamford, situated in his own Lincolnshire constituency, he said: "Local tradespeople... decided they wanted to build nice places to live.

"We've somehow forgotten to do that, which is why people object to us building on open farm and land - they build ugly rubbish. If we remember to build places like Stamford, people won't mind us building in fields."

Watch Newsnight's Allegra Stratton's report on Wednesday, 28 November, 2012 at 22:30 GMT on BBC Two or watch afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

Allegra Stratton Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 786.

    Absolutely frightening.
    The short term answer is to make more efficient use of existing developed land.
    The long term answer is to curb the human birthrate.Too many people have three children (ie above maintaining-status-quo rate) and then expect houses for them. We are not the only species on the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 785.

    What the hell have immigrants got to do with building on green belt land? There are obviously two issues here! Even if immigration was stopped we would still need houses for the people who are already here as there is not enough housing full stop! What we should be doing is building on brownfield sites and doing up the thousands of empty homes that have been left to fall into disrepair!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    has anyone mentioned the extra drives,roads and oh those EXTRA sewage systems (THAT NEVER GET PUT IN ALONG WITH NEW HOUSING!!!Concrete over it all and boy watch us sink-then well need the trees you`ve cut down for Arks!!!-oooops

  • rate this

    Comment number 783.

    Why do people feel the need to try and bash 'greedy developers' and their 'huge profits' YES they will make lots of money, they will however also create LOTS of jobs and pay LOTS of TAX to pay for all the public service's we want and need as well as providing homes for the next generation. people need to open their eyes and see the bigger picture

  • rate this

    Comment number 782.

    Feeble thinking by the minister. First, a punitive tax on second homes would reinvigorate the countryside. Second, make developers and planners jointly and personally liable for flood damage to property when they stupidly build on FLOOD plains, silly devils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 781.

    Why not have done and build on the greenbelt after all food all comes from supermarkets these days.
    Problem solved !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 780.

    why are some of these areas not used for housing, there are many reasons and looking at recent house building trends and the floods we seem to be getting tells enough i think, so planning minister please if a lane says well lane do think. research all before just building and hoping.

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    Policy statements and no detail...again.Yes,we need affordable housing stock but lets look at refurbishment of assets and empty or redundant housing stock first. It will also be a good way to regenerate a local town. Has the Minister thought about impact on road, rail,schools, utility example is the consent to build on flood plains and we are now reaping the consequences of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 778.

    "The built environment can be more beautiful than nature "

    Am I the only one who thinks this is so very WRONG?

  • rate this

    Comment number 777.

    It's not the fact of building per se.

    I know of developments in conservation areas, built with skill to traditional density and design, of natural local stone and slate with decent gardens. They are excellent. It is the rubbish as shown here in the pic that is the problem.

    Much higher standards for design, layout and materials are required in our planning rules.

    Stuff the profiteers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 776.

    We have a lot of Brown Field sites in our inner and outer cities, why not utilise those areas, where transport and utility links are already established. We have a great deal of unused and derelict grade II listed building which are just sat there rotting away, knock them down and build on them, or renovate them, it doesn't take a genius, it just takes common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 775.

    1. Leave the EU and enforce immigration rules (UKIP?) Remove all child benefits and credits beyond 2 children. The population will begin to stablise.
    2. Use public money to buy up empty/decript homes and build on brown field sites. Use UK labour for this. Keep them in public ownership and rent at a LOWER RATE than current market causing downward pressure on rental and buying prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 774.

    For those who mention immigration, the lefties of Rotherham social services will be coming to take your kids and maybe your pets if you have an alsation, or rottweiler let alone a daschund.

  • rate this

    Comment number 773.

    Yes, we need more *affordable* homes. But how is destroying our countryside by covering it in housing estates the best way to provide them? We need to look at why there are so many empty buildings in towns already, and work out how they can be used instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 772.

    Wasn't there are report a while ago showing there was about 1 million empty houses? Perhaps sort out the existing poor housing stock and brownfield sites please.

    But of course this is more about land grabs by developers...

  • rate this

    Comment number 771.

    @The Bloke: I agree in part with your comment, we can do something about the abandoned properties and land wastage etc.. a complete survey and plan is needed nationwide.. but I also think immigration and government spending are two sides of same coin, directly related to housing problem/overcrowding. Also mismanagement/lack of regulation on housing market too much speculation and "buy to lease".

  • rate this

    Comment number 770.

    Sure, just make sure it isn't in the south east, maybe then the country may be less London centric?

  • rate this

    Comment number 769.

    If the BBC hadn't been so trenchant in its support for mass immigration, it would have been more interested in looking at the housing situation.

    Like the DT, it would have investigated links between the Tories and developers. It would no doubt have checked for cronyism between planning departments and builders, looking for problems like it does with other organisations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 768.

    What's wrong with brownfield sites? Can we use those up first?
    Protect the greenbelt, but build on farmland. All these new rural dwellers will have to have two cars - one each for him and her - becasue there is NO public transport in rural areas today. If I have an appointment in my local general hospital without a car I would have to travel by bus this week and return next week - I jest not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 767.

    15 Minutes ago
    Do not be fooled by this.The Goverment.....
    Like Peter Gabriel once said,"Selling England,By The Pound".
    Probably the best "Genesis" album.
    ~ A Lament for post war England ~

    "Chewing through your Wimpey dreams"...
    "digesting england by the pound"

    Not sure he was thinking(singing) about the same Wimpey..!! ;)


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