Examination of Witnesses (Questions 333-339)
MR STUART MILLIGAN AND MR ANDREW WHITAKER
WEDNESDAY 17 APRIL 2002
333. Welcome to the second session of the Committee's inquiry into the Planning Green Paper. Can I ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
(Mr Whitaker) I am Andrew Whitaker, National Planning Adviser of the House Builders Federation, which itself represents the house building industry. Our members account for 75 per cent of all homes built in this country in any one year,
(Mr Milligan) I am Stuart Milligan. I am the Group Planning Director of Redrow PLC. We build 4,000 houses throughout the UK and we have a commercial development arm as well.
334. Do either of you want to say anything more by way of introduction or are you happy to go straight to questions?
(Mr Whitaker) May I make one point? The House Builders Federation and its members are, of course, major users of the planning system and we believe it is very important that the system is efficient, provides certainty, is transparent and, very importantly, that it provides some form of stability. We have made those comments in our submission to you and expanded on how we believe the system can provide us with those things. I am sure we will be returning to those matters throughout your questions.
335. Basically your submission says that there is not enough land being provided for house building and that the Green Paper proposals are not particularly good at addressing this difficulty. Can you expand on that?
(Mr Whitaker) Certainly. This country needs more housing. We are producing new households at approximately 200,000 a year and yet we are only building 160,000 new houses a year. If one accepts that house builders want to build houses, then clearly something is going wrong and we believe that it is the planning system that is going wrong. However, we believe that much can be done without legislation to enforce the current system. We are very worried that going through a radical reform of the system will lead to a period of hiatus where local authorities may choose to duck their responsibilities for providing land for development, and in particular land for housing. It is imperative that we get a planning system that delivers enough land for housing in the right places, for the right houses and for the right people. We are really only arguing about the word "right" I think.
336. Are you really saying that the problem is that there is not enough money available to make the present system work, rather than that the present process is defective?
(Mr Whitaker) I do not think it is necessarily just about money. Clearly resourcing of local planning authorities is a very important issue. If you downgrade the importance of planning in a local authority, then clearly you will starve it from money, and that leads to problems because you are under-staffed and under-resourced. That is one element of the problem. The other problem is that if local authorities choose to obstruct, if you like - and that is a rather harsh word - or duck their responsibilities, we do not believe there are enough sanctions in the system to ensure that they do meet all those responsibilities. We would like to see those sanctions put in place.
337. Do you not think they very much reflect in what local people want, which is no new houses in their area?
(Mr Whitaker) That may well be the case but clearly, and you have seen the figures that we have submitted to you, household formation continues at a pace and we are now seeing the problems associated with a lack of supply in the face of a very large demand.
338. There is no lack of supply, is there? There are half a million empty homes in the northern parts of Britain. Is it not simply that if you do not provide them, people will move and will fill those empty homes?
(Mr Whitaker) There is a number of empty homes. We recognise that. Not all of those empty homes are just sitting idle. Some of those empty homes come into the system as vacant homes and about 4 per cent of the stock at any one time will always be vacant, even if you have the most efficient system.
339. That is not the problem in the north of England. It is just that those homes cannot be sold.
(Mr Whitaker) It is, and therefore we are looking at a quality issue and the type of housing that people want. If you have a lot of poor quality housing that people do not actually want to live in, then we need to come up with some method of replacing those homes. Quite clearly, we are very interested in replacing those homes.