Housing and the countryside: Hilary Benn’s CPRE lecture

I am looking forward to Hilary Benn’s CPRE Lecture tomorrow. He follows a distinguished line of previous speakers, including David Miliband, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Caroline Lucas and, more recently, Greg Clark, Chris Huhne (when he was Energy and Climate Secretary) and Patrick McLoughlin


Hilary Benn made himself a CPRE hero when, as Environment Secretary, he approved the South Downs National Park, including the Western Weald. I am sure his speech tomorrow will be thoughtful and that he will grapple with the question of how England can get the housing we need without unnecessary loss of countryside. I do not expect that CPRE will agree with everything he says, but there are three areas we particularly hope he will cover.  


First, any future Labour government should seek to reinvigorate the urban renaissance.   Protecting the countryside from damaging development helps to make towns and cities better places in which to live. As Richard Rogers said in the Guardian earlier this week, pointing to the amount of brownfield land available in cities such as London, Manchester and Hull, “we should build new towns in our cities before we build them in the Green Belt”. Hilary Benn has been a strong proponent of a brownfield-first approach, and we are interested to hear what a Labour government would do to ensure that more housing is built on brownfield land.


Second, we hope he will say something about housing numbers and housing land supply. The country needs many more homes, but simply allocating lots of land does not mean that houses will be built on it. Nor, as the last Labour government learned, does decreeing large housing targets magically produce houses.  


At present local authorities are being made to allocate greenfield land to meet their five year land supply requirement. One reason they cannot allocate a higher proportion of brownfield land is that across the country the Strategic Housing Market Assessments (SHMAs) are coming up with implausibly high housing targets, in some cases higher than have ever been achieved, even in boom years. The result is that developers cherry pick the most profitable sites, generally greenfield sites, without building more homes in total. This is the worst of both worlds: too few houses built; too much countryside lost.    


Third, we hope Hilary Benn will have something to say about the tricky question of assessing viability. How can local authorities properly scrutinise developer claims that it is unviable to build on certain sites or deliver the number of affordable houses needed? There needs to be much more openness about how developers calculate viability, and greater resources for local authorities to assess whether claims of non-viability are true.   


Hilary Benn will, of course, give his own speech, not ours. In truth, I have no idea what he will say. But I hope he will tackle some of these questions. We will be tweeting the speech using the hashtag #CPRElecture. We hope to post the speech on the CPRE website, and that Hilary Benn will respond to comments.  






4 Responses to “Housing and the countryside: Hilary Benn’s CPRE lecture”

  1. 1 claire stewart September 11, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Would be interested to know if you have had a chance to look at the DCLG Technical consultation on planning which is currently out for comment. I work for a Town Council and it looks to me to be proposing a bit of a planning free for all. The proposal will take power away from the consultees such a Natural England and transfer them to Planning Departments who, it can be argued, do not have the expertise. Comments should be in by the 26th sept .


  2. 2 CPRE Local Supporter September 28, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    The lecture by Hilary Benn appears nowhere on CPRE’s website – even in the ‘Local Groups’ section (and it ought to be in the ‘public’ part). Shaun Spiers discussed on 10 September what he wanted to hear from the Shadow Minister to say, but this is rather irrelevant as he has now spoken.
    Two weeks later CPRE members who wish to know what Mr Benn said are none the wiser! The transcript (even if modified on delivery) must be available somewhere but it doesn’t seem to be. .

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