Campaigners have warned that the Government’s white paper to ‘fix the housing market’ could jeopardise Sussex’s unprotected countryside.
Minister promised the fresh proposals would ‘hold developers to account’ and crackdown on property companies who ‘land bank’ their planning permissions rather than immediately building homes.
While the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s Sussex branch has welcomed some of the initiatives, such as those to protect ancient woodland and promote brownfield development, it has argued the white paper also creates new loopholes which speculative developers will be quick to exploit.
Kia Trainor, a director at CPRE Sussex, said: “We have concerns about whether the proposed measures to tackle land banking go far enough and we feel that the new measures to ‘hold local authorities to account through a new housing delivery test’ will just place additional burdens on local authorities.”
CPRE Sussex also believes the white paper is wrong to blame local authorities for the housing crisis.
Roger Smith, CPRE Sussex trustee, explained: “The true culprits are the developers and - historically - the financial crash back in 2008.
“The real reason some authorities still don’t have a plan in place is because their efforts have been aggressively undermined by speculative developers.”
An example of this was the Mid Sussex Local Plan which was set back by three years when the developers challenged it on a technicality called the ‘duty to cooperate’, while developers are currently slowing down the examination hearings scrutinising the plan by repeatedly challenging the district council over objectively assessed housing need.
On the issue of land banking the white paper acknowledges that more than a third of planing permissions granted between 2010/11 and 2015/16 have yet to be built and includes guidance encouraging local authorities to use compulsory purchase powers.
But Dr Smith argues the white paper offers too little too late, adding: “The findings from the Civitas report, ‘Planning approvals vs Housebuilding activity, 2006-2015’ are omitted from the white paper.
“The report found that of the 2,035,835 new homes granted permission by local authorities over the period, only 1,261,350 have been started and that this huge shortfall has accumulated because house-builders and developers are hoarding permissions in order to push-up house prices and profits.”
The white paper also highlights the issue of empty homes stating that: “Local authorities have powers and incentives to tackle empty homes. Through the New Homes Bonus they earn the same financial reward for bringing an empty home back into use as building a new one.”
However, despite these existing measures, recent figures from a recent Freedom of Information request show that Crawley has 2,892 empty homes, while a study by the charity, Empty Homes shows that there are more than 3,000 empty homes in Brighton.
Mrs Trainor added: “It can be deeply frustrating for local people to see homes under-used in their neighbourhood when they themselves might be struggling to afford to meet their housing needs.”
Dr Smith added: “This issue needs to be properly addressed before any more countryside is sacrificed.”
Unveiling the white paper on Tuesday, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The housing market in this country is broken and the solution means building many more houses in the places that people want to live.
“We are setting out ambitious proposals to help fix the housing market so that more ordinary working people from across the country can have the security of a decent place to live. The only way to halt the decline in affordability and help more people onto the housing ladder is to build more homes. Let’s get Britain building.”
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