Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)



  60. Once again, you are going from one extreme to the other. Surely there must be a mid-way here.
  (Lord Best) Looking at the whole spectrum it will be site specific. If you have a mixed scheme you might have a high density block of apartments and you might have around much lower density for the families who want a little bit of garden at the back. When you take it as a whole you discover you have 50 houses to the hectare. You can play it different ways.

  61. If the density of new housing development was increased to the level recommended in PPG3, would this remove any requirement for new building on greenfield sites?
  (Lord Best) It would not, but anyway there is no way you are going to get to this. PPG3 has this range, 30 to 50. This is a really ridiculous theoretical argument that some people propose: do them all at the 50. But on loads of sites it is just impossible to do. You are not going to be able to get that number of houses. There are all kinds of topographical things; the site itself may not lend itself to that high density. So we are never going to pack them in to that extent. You can only do it by cheating. I am discovering the ways in which you can exclude certain sites, call them something different—amenity land and so on—so you exclude the bits that you are then counting for your density purposes. No doubt people will cheat and find ways of making it look better. But we are never going to get those very high densities everywhere. Anyway, not all of the people who need to be housed—not all the supply that is required—is in areas where there is a lot of brownfield land. Regrettably in the south-east there are large areas where we need to house people; about half of them are already there now as we talk who are growing up and coming through the system. Those people are not going to be housed if the extra homes are all built on brownfield sites because there are not enough brownfield sites in those places.

  62. We understand that the density of housing in traditional towns and villages are quite high. This being the case, why does your report suggest that densities have to be low in new developments?
  (Lord Best) We must not kid ourselves that all of the people will be able to live in high-rise buildings in dense surroundings. Family housing is going to need to be relatively loose. It is said that because some of the families that are now being housed in London have come from other countries where flat life is more popular then we are going to be able to get away with putting more families into flats than we did last time round when we got into this bind and needed to build a lot of homes fast, when we put families above the ground. But I am dubious as to whether that argument runs very far. I guess for families the concept of a home with a bit of garden or a big balcony area is going to be needed.

  63. Perhaps you would tell the Committee in your opinion what proportion of the housing needed in the southern regions could be accommodated within London.
  (Lord Best) I think we can get a lot more housing in London.


  64. Fifty per cent.
  (Lord Best) Fifty per cent of the total. If you are taking the south as a whole and you are taking London, we are looking at 47 per cent of the demand being in the south and 20 per cent being in London, so that is not quite 50 per cent.

Mr Betts

  65. Given that the Government has constraints on its expenditure and needs money for other things, do you think the planning system can make a contribution to providing resources for affordable housing? If so, what is the best way to go forward and do you think the ideas on using tariffs proposed in the Green Paper would work better than the current arrangements?
  (Lord Best) I think that definitely planning gain can help us, but it principally will help us to get our hands on the land that is needed to have the affordable housing on it rather than to save us a bundle of money. That is my view. The problem with the house-building industry having not just land-banks but options on tremendous amounts of land is that those who wish to see affordable housing cannot acquire land in the way we used to. Every blade of grass around the edge of York has an option on it from a house-builder. Our problem is not necessarily that we do not have an allocation of money from the Housing Corporation or reserves of our own cash—it may not be a financial problem—it is "How do we get hold of the land?" If Planning Gain says that any house-builder all around York has to put over 25 per cent for social housing and 10 per cent for other affordable housing—a 35 per cent formula, shall we say, around York—then great. Planning has made it possible for 35 per cent of the housing that is built around York to be affordable under one of these two headings. But that has not necessarily changed the position in terms of finance. With the site that we are acquiring we require the Housing Corporation money to come in and pay for the affordable housing, but we will insist that each house-builder that is building, including do 65 per cent for sale and sell back to us 35 per cent which we are able to buy with the Corporation money. I think the Planning Gains, although they might knock 10 per cent off the cost of social housing—

  Chairman: I will have to ask you for rather shorter answers, please.

Mr Betts

  66. Finally, just a word about the Community Land Trusts. Where does the land come from?
  (Lord Best) Community Land Trusts try to lock in the value of the site so that as it gets developed that gain is not taken elsewhere, but is kept for the site. It requires the initial sale to be at a relatively low price and for values to rise. To work, how do you get the initial sale at a relatively low price? Possibly because, at the moment, there is not much chance of it getting planning consent and only with this deal does it get planning consent later. Possibly because it is owned by the council. It may have had council housing on part of it.

  67. On the planning system you are proposing there, are you actually giving planning permission providing that certain things are going to be done with the land in the future?
  (Lord Best) For example, a new settlement. There is a thought that we might have around Cambridge four new settlements. Nobody knows where they are going to go. It would be possible to conceive of a sale of a site which, if the condition is that you will sell at this price you get the planning consent, otherwise you will not, you could lock in the value of that site and use it for the affordable housing, for the amenities from the gain that accrues over a period of time.


  68. That was the idea with the new towns, was it not? And yet the new towns have had their money robbed away by various people.
  (Lord Best) Quite. It was exactly that. It started with the garden cities—Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities—which locked in the value and it went on to the new towns (and really this is a revival of that on a small scale because nobody is as ambitious as people used to be about such matters). I think that there is limited application. Rather than that being the way in which we get our hands on more land and hold its value in, assembly of land by local authorities and some compulsion in that process in partnership with the big housing associations, charitable bodies, intermediaries of different kinds—that is the model we are using in York where the council is behind this—we may well need compulsion. People will hold you to ransom, that little strip you need to get access from the north side, wherever it is. We are going to have to be firmer to get our hands on the land and not allow just market forces to determine everything.

Mrs Ellman

  69. If we just keep building new houses in the south, as the Foundation's report suggests, is that not going to just increase regional disparities?
  (Lord Best) No, it does not really just suggest that. We certainly have to build elsewhere but, for better or worse, we are probably going to have to build more of them in the south and in London. I would say that we have to target the brownfields because we are doing worse in terms of the quota of the total that should be on brownfield sites, but that is acknowledging that we are not going to change the economic basis of the country very quickly even though there are little sparks of light and things now happening in places that some people were beginning to write off ten years ago. I mentioned Leeds, just round the corner from York where we are. Leeds is coming on leaps and bounds.


  Chairman: We can accept a plug for Leeds, but what about Heckmondwike? I think on that note we will have to finish this session. Could we have the next set of witnesses, please.


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