Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) (AFH 68)


  1.  This paper summarises CPRE's interim views in response to the call for evidence from the Urban Affairs Sub-Committee of the Transport, Local Government and Regions Select Committee for its inquiry on affordable housing. As agreed orally with the Committee clerks, we intend to submit more detailed evidence very shortly. Please note that the views here expressed are subject to approval by CPRE's Policy Committee.


  2.  CPRE believes a number of recent factors have contributed to the renewed interest in Government housing policy, and planning for housing in particular. Among other things, the latest housing completions figures (which show that housing output is at its lowest level since 1924) have been used by a number of interested bodies to predict a crisis in homelessness and—inaccurately, in our view—conflate a number of issues. Among these issues are: affordability of market housing for key workers, in London and the South East especially; levels of affordable housing provision more generally; homelessness and use of temporary accommodation; the effects of revised PPG3 Housing (2000); Green Belt policy; and the brown field-green field debate.


  3.  Policies for the provision of new housing are at the core of CPRE's concerns, in relation not only to planning per se but also to the environmental, social and economic well-being of the countryside. We have a record of close involvement in this issue over more then 10 years. Our report Housing with Hindsight (1996) showed the dramatic shortfall between the need for affordable housing and the amount built, while vastly more private market housing was built than had been projected. We joined forces with Shelter, the TCPA and the NHBC for a national inquiry into housing need in rural and urban areas in 1998. Progress with changes to national guidance, however, has been limited: the latest Circular 6/98 and the Rural White Paper contributed only marginal improvements, some of which have not been taken up by local authorities; PPG3 introduced the welcome requirement for local authorities to co-ordinate housing strategy with planning, but this has yet to produce significant results.

  4.  CPRE fully acknowledges the vital importance of adequate provision to meet identified social housing need, and we have in the past suggested ways in which this issue might be addressed without causing unnecessary harm to the countryside. We would highlight the following issues in the context of the Sub-Committee's Inquiry:

    —  we believe that arguments that planning constraints on green field housing are a significant contributory cause of the shortage of affordable housing are flawed. Available figures indicate that a) land supply is ample, even in the South East; but b) developers are not always willing or required to provide the sort of housing which is most needed and for which sites have been identified;

    —  we believe there are grave dangers inherent in simplistic approaches to this problem, such as confusing simple market demand for housing with housing need;

    —  there has been a widespread failure by local authorities and providers to make full use of the tools already available to them, as indicated most recently by the DTLR's own research Delivering Affordable Housing through Planning Policy (February 2002).

    —  we would like to see stronger promotion of the ways in which planning could help secure more affordable housing, eg through clear policies in development plans for the percentage of affordable housing to be required of developers, and full implementation of PPG3 Housing;

    —  we would draw the Sub-Committee's attention to examples of local authorities where good practice is being followed—eg in reviewing plans, removing of unsuitable green field sites, applying the sequential test, actively promoting the re-use of previously used urban land and buildings and integrating housing strategies with planning policies—to show that progress is possible;

    —  the restatement in the Rural White Paper of support for a one-for-one (market/affordable) housing policy requirement appears to have had little noticeable effect;

    —  we believe that the importance of providing proper funding for social housing, including setting the spending limits for providers at realistic levels within which they can work, has been neither sufficiently acknowledged nor acted upon by Government. We also believe there is a pressing need for the effective integration of housing investment and planning strategies at the regional and local levels, including the setting of regional targets for the provision of affordable housing;

    —  possible mechanisms to promote the allocation of sites in development plans specifically to meet social housing needs as part of mixed communities should be seriously considered;

    —  we would strongly support the removal of subsidised market housing from the general definition of affordable housing and limiting the definition to property for letting at social rents in perpetuity or shared ownership/rented housing.

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