Video: In a debate on Town and Country Planning, John says housing quantity and quality can come together

A text version of John’s speech can be found below:

I follow that excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) by saying that I am worried that the tone and tenor of this debate have assumed that quantity and quality cannot come together. We should put that false dichotomy aside, because it is perfectly possible. We should take together not just the three statutory instruments before the House but the whole raft of the Government’s planning reform proposals, because that is what we should get and what I expect we will see.

I say all that because, as I mentioned in an intervention, the development codes will mean that we end up with good-looking local development that is locally appropriate, uses local styles and materials and is set by local councillors and local councils, meaning that local democratic voices are properly heard. Taken together with space standards that were reaffirmed today, that means we can have good-looking and high-quality housing while at the same time opening the floodgates to a far higher overall rate of housing construction than we have ever managed under any Government of any particular political persuasion for decades and decades in this country.

Ultimately, the quantity of new housing, whether to buy or to rent, is what will dictate, over the medium term, the affordability of housing to buy or to rent. That is the long-term answer. The fundamental problem we have had in this country over decades is that we just have not been building enough homes of any kind of tenure. That is what has driven up housing costs to their current unaffordable levels.

I welcome the total package of reforms, of which the three SIs form part, simply because it resolves this dichotomy—this false choice—between quantity and quality. However, I make one plea. A number of us—many Members from all parties, I suspect—will be getting all sorts of concerned emails from residents and councillors alike who are worried about what someone colourfully ​called the mutant algorithm that is being used to calculate the number of homes that need to be built in each local authority area. I have written to the Housing Minister with a suggestion about how we might be able to resolve this important local democratic concern: if we can allow large numbers of permitted development rights for homes built under high-quality development codes in town and city centres right the way across the country, we should allow the permissions that have thus been created and the homes that will therefore be built to count against the housing targets.

The average height of buildings in a town such as Weston-super-Mare, in my constituency, is roughly two storeys. If we allow them to go up to four storeys, it will take years of steady construction and conversion to get there. We will end up with good-looking local terraces, crescents and mews homes and mansion blocks, every bit as good as the best in any part of this country, but they will have local character and, more importantly, we can create thousands and thousands of new homes. It makes no sense not to allow a proportion of those thousands and thousands of new homes to be set against the new housing targets. With that will come far greater local democratic acceptance of the overall package, including some of the concerns about the overall housing-build rate.