Ben Everitt: Delivering affordable and sustainable housing is key to strengthening our rural communities
The importance of planning cannot be understated. It affects our transport network, our green spaces, our health services, and our schools.
Getting planning right is the key to thriving communities. We need to build beautiful homes, in the right places, at the right speed, to the right environmental standards. I strongly believe that this building should be sustainable, appropriate, affordable, and proportionate.
Being a Member of Parliament in Milton Keynes means these four principles – sustainable, appropriate, affordable, and proportionate – could not be closer to my heart. Milton Keynes works so well because of the way it was planned meticulously back in 1967, achieving a both scale and speed with award-winning designs. Fast forward 55 years and unfortunately that well-planned development is slipping through our fingers.
We need to focus on sustainable, appropriate, affordable, and proportionate housing which puts infrastructure before expansion
Huge developments being recklessly dropped on the edge of this well-planed system, like something out of a video game, swamping our villages and suburbanising our market towns. These developments do not respect the character of local villages and they take farmland out of production when the world is facing famine due to the impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine. We can absolutely build beautiful houses with modern methods that aren’t just the identical builds we’ve unfortunately become so used to seeing.
So, we need to focus on sustainable, appropriate, affordable, and proportionate housing which puts infrastructure before expansion. Only then can we solve the housing crisis, whilst also nurturing communities and making our cities and towns great places to live. If we get this right, it can be a catalyst for levelling up across the country.
Local communities need to be involved in the process. We have learned from the pandemic that strong communities and family bonds are hugely beneficial – not just for society, but local economies. It’s time we put communities at the heart of planning. We need sensitive, beautiful, smaller houses for young people, young families, older people and later living. Not only will this support with housing targets with appropriate housing, but it could also free up the log jam within existing stock. Provide older people with a place to downsize to and that frees up housing stock further down the housing ladder.
I’ve mentioned the importance of affordability, and this is where we need to see the government take a bold step and actually define what “affordable” is. We can talk about building new affordable homes all we like but a young person going to buy an “affordable home” at current prices is hardly likely to class it as affordable themselves.
We need to act quickly to reform planning to provide the housing our country needs, whilst also strengthening and protecting our rural communities. We need to invest in degree apprenticeships for planning. Effectively we need to make planning sexy again. We need to invest in degree apprenticeships for planning and then work with degree apprenticeships providers to build appropriate curriculums to provide us with the planners of the future. Once we have those future planners, we simply have to ensure local authorities have an appropriately resourced planning departments to stop the brain drain to the private sector.
If we focus planning around the four key themes: sustainable, appropriate, affordable, and proportionate, we can fix the housing market and build thriving communities which will benefit local economies.
Ben Everitt is the Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North.
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