Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has written a letter to the National Trust, warning it against becoming too political. Kawczynski writes:
I am very concerned by the Trust's current political campaign on planning reforms. I am especially worried that the Trust’s behaviour runs the risk of causing long term damage to the organisation.
The Trust's responsibilities are set out clearly in Section 4 of the 1907 Act. It was established to promote the permanent preservation of land and buildings of beauty or historic interest. This is a statutory definition of your role. I cannot imagine that Parliament, at that time, thought the National Trust should become the leader of a national lobby on planning policy.
Whilst I accept the Trust has a right to comment on how the reforms may impact on areas of outstanding natural beauty, conservation areas, listed buildings or similar, you seem to be treating the whole of the "open" countryside as being lands of beauty. This is patently incorrect. I am concerned there is a danger that the Trust, as currently managed, could have stretched the interpretation of your statutory purpose to breaking point – leading to serious questions being asked about the Trust's activities.
Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps spoke in Westminster Hall yesterday, during a debate on temporary housing. He opined that many more homes need to be built, but warned against their imposition on local communities:
"The Department for Communities and Local Government says that, on 31 March, there were 78,000 homeless households in England in temporary accommodation, which is nearly twice as many as in 1997. It also says that three quarters of those households in temporary accommodation contain children who are dependants. Indeed, I published a report a year ago almost to the day that showed that there are 130,000 homeless children living in various forms of temporary accommodation, which is double the number 10 years ago.
Those are the facts. What about the reasons? It seems clear that the lack of supply has been the biggest contributory factor to those enlarged figures and the supply side has created a range of problems. It does not really matter whether one is looking at temporary accommodation, lack of social or affordable housing, or housing in general. As has been discussed many times in similar debates, for every type of housing fewer houses have been built in the last decade, which I know is as deeply troubling to many Labour Members as it is to us in the Conservative party.
The simple lack of housing provision has led to many of the chronic problems that were described today in great detail, with individual case histories being provided during the debate. As was mentioned, it is a fact that only 27,000 affordable homes will be built this year.
The simple facts are that, on average, 145,000 homes have built each year under this Government, compared with 175,000 under the previous Government, meaning that over 10 years about a third of a million fewer homes have been built. If those homes had been built and were in play and in the marketplace, it is reasonable to expect that rents would be lower.
That situation is what we need to get back to, but we cannot do it through top-down targets; we need to do it through bottom-up incentives. That is a fundamental argument at the heart of this debate and every other debate on housing that takes place here in Westminster Hall. Until the Government recognise that they cannot force the targets down on unsuspecting communities without giving them something in return—those communities need to be provided with a carrot or an incentive to build new homes—we will continue in the mess that we find ourselves in today. Labour Members are happy to complain about that mess, but they will not recognise the source or the real reasons behind the catastrophic situation in relation to temporary housing, homelessness and, indeed, the cost of housing overall."
Mr Shapps is right to say that top-down targets cause a great deal of resentment. He is also right that there is demand for more housing. This is indeed a difficult circle to square, not least given environmental considerations such as the potential loss of green space and inadequate water supply.
The Conservative front bench may be less comfortable about tackling another matter - the extent to which immigration has put pressure on housing demand and whether a radical change in national policy is necessary.
Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons chamber.
Only Cherie Blair could have enjoyed last week's Prime Minister Question Time more. It is rare to see someone come apart in a debate, but Gordon Brown did. Years of scheming and plotting against Tony Blair - and then he flunks it. As I watched him visibly reduced, I imagined the laughter and delight rippling through the Blair household. I can almost hear Cherie now; "Not quite as easy as Tony made it looks, is it, Gordon?"
Yet Brownite sorrows come not as single spies, but in battalions.
If PMQs got most coverage, the performance of the week belongs to Conservative education spokeman, Michael Gove MP (Surrey Heath). In an education debate with Education Minister Ed Balls (Normanton), the Gove was not merely eloquent, but brilliant. Funny, yet without flippancy, Gove showed how the government has comprehensively failed to achieve on its big promise to improve education. All that talk and millions of pounds of money, and all too many of our children are still failing.
That this House notes the growing concern over the effect of Home Information Packs (HIPs) on a fragile housing market; observes that the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has warned that the introduction of HIPs has already led to a downturn in the market for both four and three bedroom homes; recalls that the Government was warned against introducing HIPs from across the housing industry; is concerned that none of the revised secondary legislation for HIPs was scrutinised or debated by the House before its implementation; calls for Home Information Packs to be scrapped and Energy Performance Certificates to be implemented separately; and asserts that ending stamp duty for first time buyers up to £250,000 would do far more to help home buyers and sellers.
Were the country looking for a single policy that best encapsulates the Government’s failure to listen, I suspect that home information packs would be in the running. In forcing through the legislation, Ministers have consistently ignored the advice of housing experts, the industry, the market, buyers, sellers and colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place. Now that HIPs are partially implemented, the results are becoming all too clear, with an already fragile housing market shaken to the core by a dramatic drop in the number of new homes being put up for sale. While everyone agrees that home buying and selling really should be faster and easier, is it not time that the Minister admitted that the Government have forced on England and Wales a half-baked law that is clumsy, ineffective and damaging to the housing market?
Time and again, the Government watered down their flawed proposals, and HIPs quickly turned into nothing more than expensive but worthless red tape. Then, under pressure to rescue the policy, the Minister for Housing made home condition reports optional, thereby destroying the centrepiece of the legislation. Although the Government’s website still says that home condition reports are
“an important part of the Pack”,
does she accept that, for all intents and purposes, they have been shelved and forgotten?"
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