17:40 Thursday 22nd August 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Almost 400,000 homes in England have been given planning permission, but have yet to be built. The Local Government Association study found that little progress had been made in reducing the backlog over the past year. It comes after plans for another 1,600 homes were given the go-ahead in the Cambridge area just yesterday. Joining me in the studio now is Cllr Nick Wright, who’s the Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development on South Cambs Council. Hello Nick.
NICK WRIGHT: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: And on the phone, joining us from London, is Cllr Clyde Loakes ..
CLYDE LOAKES: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: .. who’s Vice Chair of the Local Government Association’s Environment and Housing Board, and who is a councillor in Waltham Forest, down there in the smoke. So Clyde, tell us about this study. Just how bad are things?
CLYDE LOAKES: Well we firmly believe that this government keeps tinkering with the planning system, when in fact there are 400,000 homes that have planning permission and are ready to be built. Nine in ten planning applications get the green light. But the Government keeps in effect bashing councils for not delivering the economic growth it needs through house building, when in fact it’s developers holding on to planning permissions and consent, but not actually getting on site and building these homes. And unless Government wakes up and smells the coffee around this, it will actually be replicating creating another economic disaster, with so many people chasing fewer and fewer homes, pushing the prices of those homes up more and more, and making it really really difficult for many people to get on the ladder.
CHRIS MANN: let me guess, you’re a Labour councillor.
CLYDE LOAKES: I am. Yes.
CHRIS MANN: (LAUGHS) This backlog of unbuilt homes and the drop in the number of planning applications submitted, that must be a worrying sign too.
CLYDE LOAKES: It is. It is. And we really believe, and we think this government believes, that housing, building housing, will be one of the key milestones that gets us out of the global downturn, and gets this country back on its feet, creates that economic recovery. But it’s not recognising the full potential. One of the things we’re calling for today, as well as restating the fact that there are all of these planning applications with approval for new homes, some 400,000 new homes, is give councils some further powers and release councils. Because we could also be getting on the ground and building homes a lot quicker, and that’s creating jobs, that’s putting money into local economies, that’s helping people to move into their own homes. That’s getting things moving. But it’s this constant reluctance to have some faith and trust in local government, in local councils, to contribute to the economic recovery of this country, which is incredibly disappointing.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s bring in Nick Wright now. You heard there from your Labour colleague down in London. You’re of course a Conservative in South Cambs. And South Cambs is going to have the biggest new town in England since Milton Keynes, Northstowe. Ten thousand homes. They’ve not started yet. In fact you’ve not got to the planning permission stage yet have you?
NICK WRIGHT: Well we’re nearly there. We’re just on the point of going ahead. We’re waiting for the developers to push ahead with that one. It’s about the economy, and we’re very lucky in this area. We have a strong economy built around Cambridge. We’re creating over a thousand new jobs every year. And we’re building houses. Where they’re getting planning permissions, where the planning permissions are given, they’re being built.
CHRIS MANN: So what do you say to Clyde Loakes’ comments about how things are stalled elsewhere?
NICK WRIGHT: I think that’s true. It is down to the economy. And as the economy improves, which it is at the moment, we’ll see developers having more confidence to build and sell those houses.
CHRIS MANN: OK. And do you think there needs to be a change to the planning regulations?
NICK WRIGHT: Well we’ve seen plenty of changes over the last few years, and you know you can tinker with the planning, but it’s not going to get the houses built. It’s getting the economy going again to get the houses built.
CHRIS MANN: Your reaction to that Clyde Loakes?
CLYDE LOAKES: Well I do think the LGA has unity on this particular point. It’s not tinkering with the planning. It’s actually about getting the economics of housing delivery right. But there are all these houses ready to be built. It’s about saying to the developers, get off your backsides and get on site. Because if you’re not getting on site, then you’re actually not realising the full potential of economic growth this country desperately needs.
CHRIS MANN: Well let’s talk about the specifics of that with Nick Wright. Because there you are, as we said you’ve got the biggest, potentially the biggest new town, ten thousand homes at Northstowe. The biggest new town in England since Milton Keynes. You’re ready, but the developers aren’t. What’s holding it up?
NICK WRIGHT: Well the developers aren’t far off, and it is ready to go. It’s not just Northstowe. We’re building in Cambourne. We’re building in Papworth in my own ward. Seeing good growth there. And as the houses are being built, they’re being sold. We’re also seeing plenty of affordable housing going on. Our council is planning to build a thousand new council homes over, you know, the next ten, ten to twenty years. So there’s a good substantial amount of house building going on.
CHRIS MANN: And let me ask, gentlemen, whether you think the Government should continue to, some people say, falsely inflate the housing market by making more money available to first time buyers. Is it creating a bubble, or has the housing market actually genuinely turned a corner? Clyde Loakes first.
CLYDE LOAKES: No. We’ve got to get those houses built, because otherwise we’re creating all these money schemes for people to buy, there’s more and more people chasing fewer and fewer homes. We need to get some people on site building houses, so that more and more people can actually go and buy a house, rather than spending time being gazumped, chasing a house, their dream house, the one they want to start their family in, and never actually making any progress whatsoever.
NICK WRIGHT: Well we’re starting to see developers making money, and there’s no doubt the economy is improving across the country. And when they’re making money, the houses will be built.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you both again for joining me there. That’s Nick Wright, the Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development on South Cambs District Council, member for Papworth and Elsworth, and Cllr Clyde Loakes there, thank you to you, from London, Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Environment and Housing Board, and a councillor in Waltham Forest.