Open land can solve housing shortage, says minister

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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 746.

    Builders like green field sites close to existing developments because they are more profitable. We must not allow their lobbying power to obscure the more sensible alternatives, such as brownfield sites and empty houses. Neither is wholesale expansion of towns necessary - we need to clear up the mess many have become, rather than allow those whose motive is purely profit to create further chaos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    odd point to make Giles? life usually isnt fair deal with it. This is a good plan many of my friends cannot afford a home where we grew up and there is a desparate need for affordable housing to be built in more rural and semi rural areas - this will also CREATE the jobs everyone is moaning about not having

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    Without high rents & relatively high house prices - UK population would be much higher
    Be careful what you wish for as most new houses will go to immigrants & buy to let landlords & the the UK population will really start to explode.
    Countries like Germany, Taiwan, Estonia, Netherlands, Korea, Switzerland & Norway doing well on real GDP per capita as their populations are well under control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    The planning system is now so heavily weighted towards developers, all they have to do is submit an planning application which addresses the very basic requirements and the local authority has v little powers to refuse. The problem isn't availability of land, it's getting the developers building again! Wish the Gov would listen to all sides of the debate, not just their 'friends' (developers).

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    @Miss T Fied
    2 Minutes ago

    The difference is, interest rates go down...the amount of debt you have takes up to 25 years to reduce...High house prices help no-one, apart from the solicitors and estate agents who get rich from the proceeds...or people in the latter stages of their lives who are releasing equity or downsizing...everyone else is worse off...

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    The best policy to save land is to house people underground. With modern technology and artificial sunlight people would be quite happy. The majority of people work and then come home to watch TV. Where they live is pretty irrelevant. Much better to do this than to build on farmland and green belt areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    "The built environment can be more beautiful than nature"

    what utter utter utter rot!!!!!

    Nature has a beauty, humanity can never match, let alone exceed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    " on another 2-3% of land and we'll have solved a housing problem." Yes, for now. But what about the next 2-3% and the one after that? There will be another 11million people in the UK in 25 years time. Building on our countryside is a 1 way street and if we value it, we need a better plan than build more houses. Any long term solution must include stabilising the UK population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 738.

    No - This is large builder parasites. Build up 5 story buildings with proper terraces so you can get a table and six chairs comfortably outside and dry clothes. make sure green space around blocks including vedg plots.Use brown field sites etc. Learn from continent and cities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 737.

    There's quite a few people with second homes and some with multiple homes. That's hardly fair is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 736.

    @714 AIErgic
    Good idea. But sadly, the wealthy land owning supporters of this suggestion will be all for it, until it comes anywhere near them, and then it'll be, "not in my back yard".

  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    Universal child credit encourages immigrantion from accession EU states. Birth rate and dependency is higher in this group than generally.

    Withdraw benefit for all children born after Sept next year. That is not a cut cos you know you will never receive it. You cannot lose what you never had.

    Deal with the child poverty argument in a focussed and direct way at local level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 734.


    What about people moving to your area for jobs (and not just for second home) etc that aren't local?
    Do you live in Royston Vasey and want you local houses for local people?//

    Deal with the real problem, which is that paving over greenfield to provide Lebensraum for incomers and immigrants is offensive, and opposition justified.

  • rate this

    Comment number 733.

    No! No! No! to any more green field sites being built on!...Building permits need to be 'time dependent' so owners cannot just 'sit on it for a few years' until the market, etc, improves. But together with this is the need for Legislation as to the 'Minimum Sizes of Rooms' and 'Minimum Energy Efficiencies' of NEW HOUSES....2 little tweeks, that will reap rewards to many of millions of people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 732.

    The Government really need their collective heads together. Build more houses ?? Lets lose all of the illegal imigrants' who appear to be messing up the economy as well as taking up living space. Their figures say there are 173,000 illegals living here. Put more real policemen in the Boarder Agency, there is a shortage of them there and lets see what happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 731.

    Only 10% of UK land is developed, including gardens, parks and golf courses: the real figure is closer to 5%.
    However, most peoples perception is just the opposite! Why is that?
    It is because most of us live in ever more densely developed cities.
    So what's the solution?
    Build at low density on SUITABLE green space AND recover brown sites back to green to reduce the density of existing housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 730.

    You have to build houses somewhere and inevitably that means greenfield sites. What we need to make sure is we stop building these horrific new estates and build houses that will last, have character, good facilities and are of a decent size, Not that trimming planning laws will help that. Setting a minimum arden size would ne nice too as so many people have practically pointless gardens

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    That's right, chop a few more trees down (they drink at least 50 gallons of water a day), build so-called affordable housing with pocket handkerchief sized gardens, paper-thin walls and poor damp-proofing... and wait for the floods! Get a life, planners, and also, Minister, get some environmental knowledge in that tiny money-grabbing brain of yours!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    'What was needed was a new estate which sold at reasonable prices to local people which weren't horrible!'

    What do you suggest, a committe to vet who you deem appropriate to live in your area?
    What about people moving to your area for jobs (and not just for second home) etc that aren't local?
    Do you live in Royston Vasey and want you local houses for local people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    Where I live the council offered up brownfield sites for development. NOT ONE developer was interested. Why? They wanted to develop only on the greenfield sites in specific locations to maximise their profits.


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