Many constituents have contacted me recently about housing and protection of the Green Belt.
Like you, I am exceptionally fond of the British countryside. The fundamental aim of Green Belt, since its introduction in the 1950s, has been to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. It has been largely successful in this aim - the percentage of land covered by Green Belt has remained at around 13% since at least 1997.
While it is up to local authorities to determine the development of new homes through local plans, I would like to reassure you that the Government is acting to protect the Green Belt from inappropriate development.
Every single one of Labour's top-down Regional Strategies that sought to remove the Green Belt around 30 different towns and cities has been abolished. The Housing White Paper, published earlier this year, emphasised the Government's continued commitment to protecting the Green Belt. Ministers wants to amend and add to national policy to make it clear that: Green Belt boundaries should only be amended in exceptional circumstances, when local authorities can demonstrate they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting their identified housing requirements; and where land is removed from the Green Belt, local policies should require the impact to be offset.
National policy is clear that inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved, except in very special circumstances.
The Government also has an ambitious programme to bring brownfield land back into use in England with Ministers working to ensure planning permission is in place on 90 per cent of brownfield sites in villages, towns and cities suitable for development by 2020. Such sites will be identified on a brownfield register which will ensure councils can meet pressing housing needs by prioritising them for development. This will ensure that development is prioritised on brownfield sites rather than at the expense of our countryside.
House building is important also and I support our local authorities in the difficult tasks they have ahead. As an MP I have no jurisdiction over planning matters - these are rightly decided by the local authority - and the best way for the public to contribute to these decisions is by taking part in local plan consultations.
However, it is essential that we build the right houses, in the right places and ensure that the associated infrastructure is in place to support both new and existing residents. The Housing White Paper set out a long term, comprehensive strategy to build more homes, through encouraging better, more realistic plan making which recognises housing need; consulting on a new standardised way of assessing housing need; boosting the capacity and capability of planning authorities and giving them stronger tools to ensure sites with permission are built on; and supporting custom build homes and the use of modern methods of construction.
Whilst I cannot speculate about the contents of the forthcoming Budget, I do appreciate that this is a very important issue in NE Beds. I understand also that the Treasury is aware of the strength of feeling surrounding housing and Green Belt protection, and I will be following the Chancellor’s speech closely for any developments in this area.