There is a housing crisis in this country and it has been going on for years. Lack of housing is forcing people out of their areas where they grew up, while high rents mean young people cannot afford to save for a deposit. That’s why Liberal Democrats want to build 300,000 new homes a year, including 150,000 homes for social rent.
But decisions on local housing should be made by local authorities working with their communities. Not by Tories in Whitehall. Local authorities, working with their communities, know best where homes are needed and what infrastructure is needed to support them.
Too many ‘new build’ estates lack any infrastructure needed to support a community. GP surgeries, children’s playgrounds and green transport are too often an afterthought for developers. Or if they’re not, developers often submit planning applications removing commitments to build infrastructure, claiming it’s too expensive.
In Tory-controlled Buckinghamshire, the council are letting down local people further. They have failed to put forward a “Local Plan” which means that rather than planning applications being considered against a plan put together by local people, they are instead considered against guidelines set out by the Conservative Government in London.
This means locally elected councillors and the people they represent have much less control over developments. It means that developments will not include vital infrastructure such as GPs, schools and parks, as the council has not set out what it needs. This is a shocking dereliction of duty that the Government’s planning reforms will do nothing to solve.
The Tories’ planning reforms are a further power grab by Westminster, attempting to erode the voices of local communities. The Tories claim that these reforms are needed to increase house building, but there is no evidence this is the case.
Instead of solving problems, these reforms exclude local voices and councils from the planning process at the expense of wealthy developers, who want to ride roughshod over the view of local communities. Wealthy developers by the way, who donated a staggering £11 million to the Conservative Party last year.
Liberal Democrats believe that local communities should have a greater say on developments not a reduced one.
In South Lakeland, Liberal Democrats have set a target of building 1,000 new homes for “affordable rent” and have so far built more than half.
And in Eastleigh, our council stepped in when private developers pulled out to develop new homes on council land. These homes will be built to high sustainability standards, with 35% for affordable rent and include significant amounts of new green space.
These projects are working with local communities to deliver what they need, rather than being imposed by Whitehall.
Community is a fundamental value of the Liberal Democrats. It’s in the first sentence of our constitution. As liberals, we must fight for the rights of local communities and their right to have a real say over decisions made that affect their local area.
* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.