CPRE Berkshire welcomes ‘clarity’ on housing numbers
A local countryside charity has welcomed the Government’s recently-published and long-awaited New National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – especially the extra protection that has been promised for countryside and green spaces – but has expressed concern that Ministers are still not doing enough to address problems such as the lack of affordable and social housing in rural areas, or to ensure that sufficient investment is provided to meet the requirement for infrastructure and public services when new houses are built.
CPRE Berkshire says it is “relieved” that at long last, and after so many arguments, the Government has provided “much-needed clarity” on housing numbers and countryside protections. CPRE is pleased that the new planning framework includes a stipulation that the housebuilding figures calculated for each district using the “standard methodology” should be only “an advisory starting point” and not a mandatory target that local councils are forced to use in their Local Plans.
The new framework also emphasises the importance of local needs and special characteristics, and, crucially, it says that “there is no requirement for Green Belt boundaries to be reviewed or changed when plans are being prepared or updated” – in other words if a local council has Green Belt land within its district or borough it need not take that land out of the Green Belt just to meet housing targets. In the past councils have felt under pressure to give up Green Belt land for precisely this reason. This has happened to varying extents in Berkshire boroughs, including Windsor and Maidenhead, Bracknell Forest, and Wokingham, where Green Belt sites have been offered up for housing development to enable these councils to meet housing targets.
Greg Wilkinson, Chairman of CPRE Berkshire, explains: “The New National Planning Policy Framework is the result of a massive consultation exercise last year by the Government which produced over 22,000 responses. So at last we have a new national framework for the planning and land-use policies that all local councils are required to follow. And there are some very positive things in the new framework, especially on Green Belt protection and on how the housing figures for each district should be generated and interpreted. It will no longer be possible for any local authority to say it is releasing Green Belt land for housing development just because of local housing targets.
“However, what is still lacking from the new NPPF, and from Government statements on housing, is a clear ‘Brownfield First’ policy, which would ensure that derelict urban areas are regenerated as a matter of priority. There is also nothing from Government about how to promote and incentivise the construction of the type of housing that we really need in counties like Berkshire – in other words affordable and social housing that contributes to building sustainable communities. Let us hope we hear more from Ministers soon about how to solve the lack of social housing.”