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Open land can solve housing shortage, says minister

Allegra Stratton
Political editor, BBC Newsnight
@BBCAllegraon Twitter

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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.

media captionPlanning 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.

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