Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-263)



  Q260 Martin Horwood: You have a very strong emphasis in favour of brownfield sites and against greenfield sites, which, broadly speaking, I would agree with entirely, but there must be exceptions, surely? I think, for instance, of the very small villages which are having their shops and schools closing and you might want to encourage limited greenfield development in order to make those communities more viable and more sustainable. Would you support that?

  Mr Sinden: In broad terms, yes. We believe that there is a need for housing in rural communities. There is perhaps, broadly, a greater need for affordable housing in those communities in order to provide the kind of balance in rural communities that you are suggesting. Inevitably, that will require the use of some greenfield sites and we are encouraged that the Government has improved the tools available to local authorities very recently, in order to deliver that kind of housing, by allowing rural authorities to allocate land, small sites, solely for the provision of affordable housing.

  Q261 Martin Horwood: Are you happy for that to happen ahead of brownfield development elsewhere?

  Mr Sinden: Yes; we say that we believe there is a need, the need is not necessarily huge, in the nature of the scale of rural settlements, but it does exist, and there is a legitimate role for the planning system to make provision to meet that need.

  Q262 Chair: You talked earlier on about there being a surplus of housing in every single region. Obviously, there is always a need for a slight surplus, otherwise everybody would be stuck where they were and unable to move. Have you looked at what type of housing is in that surplus and whether the type of housing actually meets the needs of people, or whether it is all one-bedroom flats in the middle of Manchester, for example?

  Mr Sinden: We have not looked in detail at that. The situation is complex. The data, for example, relating to empty housing is interesting. While some inroads have been made in reducing the amount of empty homes in some regions there is still significant opportunity there for the Government to make address that part of the housing market, in terms of promoting the use particularly of private sector, long-term empty housing. We very much welcome, that a part of the response to the Barker review, published by the Government yesterday, which indicates that the Treasury are interested in seeing if we can improve the practice and performance of bringing that empty housing stock back into use. That is one key element, I think, of addressing the issue of the excess of stock over households.

  Q263 Chair: Thank you very much. Can I ask you to answer just one more question in writing, because we have all got to go to vote, which is to do with whether you think that planning authorities have got sufficient powers to ensure new housing is built to high environmental standards?

  Mr Sinden: We will be happy to do that.

  Chair: Thank you.

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