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Nick Boles attempts to soothe planning critics

13 December 2012

Planning Minister Nick Boles admitted yesterday that he did not believe his controversial suggestion for Britain to build homes on two million acres of countryside should be put into practice.

The new minister caused a storm last month when he supported a 3 per cent increase in UK-wide development to alleviate the housing shortages caused by high immigration.

The plan was to build homes on green-field land, increasing development from 9 per cent to 12 per cent nationwide. But yesterday, Boles denied the claims, arguing that they were meant to illustrate a wider point about under-development rather than create a particular policy or target.

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His admission came after the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee on Tuesday that the Planning Minister was right that houses are going to have to be built on some protected sites. Appearing alongside Eric Pickles and the other local government ministers, Boles told a committee of MPs:

‘What I was doing was making an argument about how little developed this country actually is, contrary to many people’s belief, and how little land would be required to completely solve, for the foreseeable future, any housing problem at all. What I was not doing – and I want to be very, very clear on this because I absolutely passionately don’t believe it – is setting any kind of target or plan or expectation of what would happen, or might happen, or needs to happen over the next 20 or 30 years, which is the period I referred to.’

Responding later to challenges that he had based the argument on outdated figures, he added:

‘8.9 per cent of development is the truth, and my only argument – and Newsnight was an argument and nothing more – is that means – thank God, hallelujah, I am grateful for that fact – that means 91% of England is countryside, and isn’t that fantastic, and doesn’t that mean we shouldn’t be too worried about meeting our housing challenge.

‘I’m sorry, Mr Chairman, but you are quoting selectively from a film that was 10 minutes long and a discussion that was 15 minutes long, it was 25 minutes of the Newsnight program. I’m sorry, it is not what I said, it is not what I meant, it is not what we’re suggesting as a department.’

Clive Betts, the Chairman of Communities and Local Government select committee who led the heated session, picked up immediately on the similarities between Boles’ language and that used by the PM on Tuesday:

‘I heard what was said about there not being targets, that this was just raising an issue. That’s actually the exact answer the Prime Minister gave yesterday – you’ll be pleased to know – at the Liaison Committee, virtually the same words in fact.

Eric Pickles, who been silent during the five minute back-and-forth, interjected at this point to commend Boles for being ‘on message’, causing rapturous laughter from the panel of cross-party MPs. But the Secretary of State was keen to match Boles’ attempt to mend cracks in the coalition. During a tongue-in-cheek discussion about the department’s view of the Treasury, Pickles offered high praise for one Lib Dem colleague:

‘There are of course tensions inside the Coalition, and I sincerely hope that I’m not doing my colleague any damages, but I think Danny Alexander, inside the Treasury, has been an enormous advocate for localism and an enormous advocate pushing that through. We could not have done those deals together, particularly not got the business, without his considerable help.’

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Show comments
  • ben corde

    9% is a huge percentage of development compared to most countries. The point everyone misses is where does this all end. Where do we draw the line? We live on an island and cannot expand indefinitely unless we import all our food and risk destroying any pretence at quality of life. The coalition has completely lost the plot. First wind farms, now this.

    • Powder

      Comparing to most countries is an utter irrelevance. Just because the US is so under-developed, it doesn’t mean we are over-developed. The UK is less developed than the Benelux states and not much different from Germany. Italy isn’t far behind. Yet the myth is we are hugely more densely populated than anywhere in the developed world let alone just Europe.

      Of course, some disingenuous types with big agendas like to quote England rather than UK, to fix the density data to suit their argument. But if you want to pick and choose parts of the data to fit your view, fine. I can too: Canada is more densely populated than Britain. Have you been to Vancouver? Talk about a sardine tin. Extreme example? Fine: the most dense regions of France and Germany are far more dense than any region of the UK. New York is twice as dense as London.

      Interesting fact of the day: London isn’t even in the top 50 densely-populated cities in Europe. Not a single UK city is.

  • Powder

    Conservationists and countryside campaigners oppose any building of houses in the countryside which might ruin the prospect from their houses in the countryside.

    NIMBYs and BANANAs, if you value the countryside so much, get the **** off it.

    • Powder

      I see two people so far have clicked the down arrow to prove my point for me. Thanks! Every down vote on this opinion is worth five up votes!

  • Vulture

    Is there any essential difference between Boles and Balls?

  • andagain

    You know, when I read the finance pages of various newspapers, they tell me that to boost the economy we need more housebuilding , more immigration of skilled workers, and a new airport in SE England.

    And then when I read the rest of the media I see wall to wall denunciations of housebuilding, immigration and any proposed new airport.

    And complaints that the economy is not doing well and the government shoud Do Something about it.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s almost as if the phrase “what-a-twat” was invented for him.

    So now he is back on message: we are going to allow mass immigration and we are not going to build any new homes. Great policy.

  • MrCreosote

    A few home truths:

    Homebuilders are not sitting on landbanks constraining supply to any excessive degree – if all the landbanked land was released with immediate effect it would only constitute 2 years supply nationally. This sort of level of buffer supply is absolutely normal within the housing industry historically.

    Building on Brownfied land has been the prevailing policy for the last 20 years – where has it got us?

    Inner city regeneration is happening now and always will – look at Berkeley Group’s profits up 40% last week – but this nowhere near covers meeting current and future requirements in total.

    There is plenty of existing infrastructure (shops schools etc) that require support in our ossifying village communities. Small scale incremental development in such places would benefit these aging communities and provide somewhere for our children to live. If every village across the land accepted 10 new houses, we would not have a national housing shortage. This needs to happen in addtion to all the Brownfield and inner city development.

    What we don’t need are massive bolt-on housing estates (the status quo), where small and medium sized builders are cut out of access to the housing land market by the volume house builder cartels, who generally throw up tiny houses of dubious build quality and crap design.

    In short, every LPA should be promoting a DISPERSAL strategy, based on realisitc housing numbers that can be defended at appeal (not falsely lowered targets as most currently are). When this eventually occurs, we will see an increased supply of better quality housing, better balanced local communities, boosted local economies, lower unemployment and lower land and house prices.
    I’m not even going to start with the immigration issue – that horse bolted years ago.
    Immigration will only get worse until we leave the EU, and turning that particular juggernaut will take years – so let’s be a bit pragmatic and start addressing the housing problem in a balanced and sustainable way.

    • Magnolia

      I would be quite happy to accept ten new houses in my village of about forty or so properties, but they would soon be taken by rich outsiders who would then develop them even further into desirable cottage style mansions. They would be of no benefit to the local grown up children of farmers or the retiring farmers themselves, because they couldn’t afford them.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Exactly the same here. The situation is only “ossifying” because the urban elite are buying weekend cottages and pricing poorer locals out of the market.

    • Colonel Mustard

      “There is plenty of existing infrastructure (shops schools etc) that require support in our ossifying village communities. Small scale incremental development in such places would benefit these aging communities and provide somewhere for our children to live. If every village across the land accepted 10 new houses, we would not have a national housing shortage.”

      That is a very dubious set of statements that bears no resemblance to the local situation here where the Post Office was closed despite healthy patronage and protest at the news. Where local shops find it hard to compete, not because of lack of a customer base, but because of the cartel-type supermarket pricing in an age of austerity. The local school closed too, not because of lack of support but because of top down re-organisation and re-structuring.

  • Magnolia

    I seem to remember the PM telling us a few months ago that only about 4% of the country had been developed. I didn’t believe it at the time and commented to that effect. We’re now offered another figure which is different to the one offered last week.
    The recent changes to planning law through the NPPF are designed to empower the central government and planning inspectorate by allowing local government officials to push pretty much anything through regardless of local opinion and locally elected representatives wishes. That’s not localism. That’s authoritarianism. Please don’t tell me about the silly neighbourhood plans which are too costly and too complicated for ordinary folks to have any chance of shaping the development in their own locality. It pains me to say it about a Party that I support, but they’re a bunch of l**rs.

    • Colonel Mustard

      If the local neighbourhood planning was anything like that here it was riddled with lefty political activists and Common Purpose orthodoxy from the start. The woman who came to my house was a public sector employee resident in the village, unelected, who when asked why she thought it was up to her to organise neighbourhood plans gave me a load of typical left-wing guff and scripted bollocks. She was just plain evasive about how she came to be the one organising but there seemed to be some local government networking involved – all of it lefty stuff of course.

      • Powder

        Conspiracies everywhere.

        Try looking for the Masonic ring rather than the Red Menace.

    • Powder

      Different data.

      According to DEFRA and DCLG who reviewed this three or four years ago, the built environment is about 8%. But that includes gardens, urban parks, verges etc. Takes those away and it’s about 4%.

  • Colonel Mustard

    This is not just about housing but about infrastructure, sustainability, logistics, transport, education and the provision of utilities. Around here the building of “developments” (future slums) has proceeded despite the so-called recession and foreigners are spending money a-plenty in the local supermarkets, trailing their gaggles of children who are not in school. But the clinics are packed with long queues and waiting lists, the classrooms are full to bursting, the local council budget for translation and interpreters is over spent and the whole thing hangs by a fragile thread of dependencies which in the blink of an eye (such as a tanker strike) would see widespread panic and chaos.

    Typical of the modern breed of wonk politicians to think “More immigrants – build more houses to put them in”. Simplistic, crass and just a short term plaster for the wound rather than a treatment to end the long term sickness that politicians are too frightened by “outrage” from all the usual self-destructive suspects, too cowed by Brussels and the media, to tackle properly on behalf of the people they owe their jobs to.

    Don’t plan for the end of 2013 and a quick fix for the Romanian/Bulgarian benefit tourists influx, Boles you cretin, do something to put a stop to the madness.

    • Davey12

      They will do nothing. Your government does not care about you. You are starting to learn what having no power means. It means no one has to listen to you.

  • Coffeehousewall

    Did the Committee raise and discuss the fact that there is only a housing crisis because of the immigration crisis? Or was he allowed to get away with that? I would not have such a problem with building new homes were it not the case that:

    i. There is already a huge amount of land already waiting to be developed.

    ii. Almost all of the housing apparently required is due to immigration.

    iii. The creation of a ‘housing crisis’ allows Government to increase its control and those who are in cahoots to make a large amount of money – while our British society and culture suffers.

    Essentially England is being concreted over so that immigrants working for immigrant building gangs can build houses that immigrants will live in. The English get the benefit of higher house prices, schools where large numbers of children speak little English, and most low skilled jobs being taken by people from other countries.

    But was that raised as an issue? Or was it just asked how much should be built and how quickly?

    • TomTom

      It has a lot to do with a Clique that serves its paymasters whether on GM Food, Construction, Windmills, Banking, Green Lobby, or simply lobbyists for private healthcare, education, etc. This is a Sponsored Regime loyal only to its paymasters and determined to use its one term in office to feather nests

    • dalai guevara

      There is a housing crisis for various reasons, immigration only being one of them. What about the far more relevant empirical truth that the construction industry has an interest in selling you 10% smaller homes ever 10 years, until the kitchen is classed as a bedroom? What about the pressures that keep rent seekers charging top whack for dismal social housing and thus other sections of society suffering from artifically low supply of affordable accommodation?

      Surely, you will understand who really profits from this scenario?

    • foxoles

      As Maria Miller said to Parliament about gay marriage, ‘We’re not here to discuss whether to do it. We’re here to discuss *how* to do it.’

    • Powder

      Immigration accounts for 45% of housing demand, whatever data you have invented in your head. We have not even built enough in the last decade and a half to cover births, divorce, holiday/second homes and an increase in single occupancy. But hey, f*** them all, right, those in housing poverty? Make them suffer for the policies of others.

      But even if you account for immigration too, the fact is they are here. No matter how much you (and I) would hope for mass deportations, it just ain’t going to happen. Stop dreaming, and stop demanding other people suffer while you hope for a policy which is never going to come. In effect, by opposing any development, what you are actually saying (again) is f*** them all, the young, families and so on – including people born and raised here. F*** them all, to protect what you have and demand to have.

      I also find it hilarious how many on this site have such hatred for the “greedy developers”. Who built your house? Not-for-profit pixies? Why was it okay for them to build you a house (or two, or three or more for you BTL parasites among us), but not for anyone else – including, again, British people?

      • Davey12

        How about treating them the same way they treat minorities in there own lands?

        As for the BTL parasites, supply and demand. Labour created the demand so let labour house them. Just get all the keys off Labour supporters and hand them over to the new citizens.

        We should not build a single house.

        • Powder

          “We should not build a single house.”

          Fine. I hope you find yourself turfed out of your house one day. I wish a calamity on you which leaves you in housing poverty. Most of all, I hope you end up freezing on the street, sucking cocks to buy food.

          See, I can be a spiteful little s*** too. How dare you live in a property but demand no more are built for ANYONE else – regardless of where they come from. Again, even without a single immigrant, we have not built enough to cover ‘natural’ indigenous population growth. Sneering people like you scream “f*** them all”.

    • Zach Thornton

      I shall slowly debunk all of what you just claimed.

      i. There is not a huge amount of land waiting to be developed. There are various reasons for this which I will explain to you:-

      – Local authorities need a 5 year land supply, this is a government requirement and is the minimum which is needed. Household growth is 232,000 a year (this exc. the backlog of under-supply and is from DCLG predictions 2008-2033) so at a conservative estimate you need 1,116,000 plots in the pipeline as a bare minimum figure, it is currently around 400,000; which is totally inadequate.

      -The backlog of under-supply is expected to number 750,000 by 2020, we need to bringing much more land forward.

      -Developments come forward over 5, 10, 15 and 20 year periods — the houses are built over time and sold in blocks, a development is not simply built in a year.

      ii. Immigration accounts for 7% of housing a significant but small figure. 60% of the requirement for new housing comes from the 65+ demographic, we are living longer than before. Households are on average one person smaller than in 1961, this expands household growth and there are more single person households due current expectations for people to be flexible regarding their careers. Your assertion to do with immigration is total non-sense and based on no facts whatsoever.

      iii. The third point is a conspiracy theory with no evidence. The housing crisis is the result of many factors that have emerged since the 1980’s, it is a complex problem, there is not one single event you can trace, it is the cumulative effect on many things. You clearly lack the critical faculties to understand such things.

      P.S. Please listen to my comments or do some reading for yourself as opposed to relying on your unjustified assumptions and rhetoric. Willful ignorance will not get you anywhere.

  • telemachus

    Is this flip flopping or poodle-ism?

    • MirthaTidville

      No its actual real concerns that ordinary people in 100% of this country have concerns about, although I do appreciate that such matters do not stretch to that part of La La land that you inhabit…

    • swatantra

      No, but its facing up to reality. We need new Towns, properly planned and designed and located with all the infrsastructure built in. That requires making fresh land available. We did it in the 50’s and 60’s, and now we need to build for the next generation. So Boles was right. But he hasn’t the courage of his convictions to see it through.

      • MrCreosote

        That was what the Labour Eco-town programme was supposed to do – how many got built? The fact is, nobody wants a new town in their back yard, whether it’s called an “Eco-town” or a “Garden City”.
        The only solution is DISPERSAL – Boles has hit the nail on the head with this one.

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