Geoffrey Cox has renewed calls for the Government to introduce greater flexibility into the planning guidelines in an effort to tackle the housing crisis in Torridge and West Devon. Describing the planning system as “the major obstacle to affordable housing” Geoffrey Cox praised West Devon Borough Council for a report published recently which prioritised the creation of affordable housing. Describing it as “pioneering” Mr Cox said the Council’s example set a good precedent for other local authorities to follow.
Speaking in the House of Commons today Mr Cox referred to the shortage of starter homes as one of the greatest issues affecting rural communities and said that an urgent solution, involving a radical review of planning policy, is needed to stem the flow of young people out of the South West. His comments come just weeks after the Secretary of State rejected plans for new village school and 52 affordable homes in High Bickington.
Despite a recent drop in house prices the South West has been identified as one of the most expensive property regions in the UK with house price to earning rations at 10.6:1 and 9.3:1 in Torridge and West Devon respectively (compared to a national average of 6.6:1 for England as a whole).
Mr Cox insisted, during the course of the debate, that people in rural areas were not hostile to building in general, but rather that they were sceptical of planning policy, and with good reason, as all too often in the past large and insensitive developments had been approved without adequate consideration being given to the necessary supporting infrastructure.
The High Bickington Project presented an alternative. It was, Mr Cox said, a “classic example of “a community taking its future into its own hands, but when confronted by the bureaucracy and astonishing blindness by the Government to the effects of its own policy…it was defeated.”
Mr Cox went on to call for greater flexibility and imagination in the planning system saying:
“It requires will, it requires leadership, it requires a coherent and joined up approach- something which is currently lacking…. It is vital that the planning system should receive from top to bottom a radical review as to whether it favours the development of affordable housing. It is only if we have that review, and a concerted approach, that we can conceivably begin to address the problems we are facing.”
11th July 2006