Sunday, August 05, 2007

Conservative Housing Policy

With regard to the current concerns in Wickford, and in an effort to clarify where the Conservative Party stands on housing, this is from a speech by Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary to the Country Landowners Association Conference on the 11th of May 2007:
Let me take just one example: housing.

Everyone accepts that we urgently need more affordable rural housing.

The average rural property price is now 6.7 times the average rural salary.

Young men and women are being priced out of their own communities. They don't like it; their families don't like it; and it's bad for social cohesion and a sense of community.

The 'solution' offered by the Government's Barker Review is a Stalinist style independent quango, unelected and unaccountable.

I cannot think of a better way to make existing tensions more acute.

The tension is between the need for more housing and the desire to protect and preserve the countryside from over-development.

I remember Chris Patten saying many years ago, when he was Environment secretary, that we shouldn't regard other people's homes as some kind of pollution. We don't see our own homes that way.

He was right.

But equally, we should not look at housing - as the Treasury appears to do now - as some kind of utilitarian instrument whose prime purpose is to achieve a set of macro-economic goals

We need new, affordable homes, not "units".

We need house builders who understand the meaning of "vernacular architecture"; who respect landscape and settings; who use local materials; who believe in the difference that aesthetics and ecology can make to the quality of life.

And we need a Government that understands that simply slapping the word "sustainable" in front of the word "communities" doesn't fool anyone.

In fact, without proper infrastructure investment in roads, schools, hospitals, post offices, water resources - without thinking of the basics that communities need in order to flourish - present Government policy is in danger of creating deracinated, broken places with no sense of community at all.

My worry is that the slums of the future are going up in a field near you.

I believe that Local Authorities are in the right place to wrestle with these dilemmas.

A top down, authoritarian approach to planning is resulting in exactly what you'd expect. Resentment and obstruction.

Local authorities, accountable to their electorates, are best placed to balance the need to meet local housing pressures with the need to protect local landscapes. The democratic process would ensure that this happened.

We don't need new planning quangos. We don't need unelected Regional Government either. We need a lot more common sense when it comes to planning; and yes, this applies just as much to the conversion of agricultural buildings for the purpose of creating new business opportunities as it does to building new homes.
The Conservative Party thinks that all of the issues to do with communities and homes are best balanced within communities and managed through the democratic process. The Labour government has plans to take what democratic accountability we have and water it down even further. Meanwhile, the local Labour Party is just using the current planning pressures in Wickford as a stick to beat the Conservative administration on Basildon District Council with. Labour has no representation and little stake in Wickford, so if their machinations make matters worse for the town then that is a risk they are prepared to take. They are happy to go along with anyone on this sort of issue and, as ever, an accurate representation of the real situation regarding development in Wickford takes second place.

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