Many have emailed asking me to take part in the Backbench debate on the proposed housing targets. This is, in fact, a debate I called for and lead in the House of Commons.
You will have seen the coverage of my announcement a fortnight ago in relation to housing and land use on the Isle of Wight.
I consider that this is one of the most important issues facing the Island, now more than ever (in light of the Government’s proposals, as set out in the Planning White Paper). I have published my detailed thoughts on what the Island needs, to look after our housing need whilst protecting our landscape and visitor economy. You can read my Housing and Land Use paper by clicking here.
As you may have seen, the Council’s Leader – Dave Stewart – has welcomed this vision, sharing my concern about the potential implications of the Government’s White Paper. We both want to see substantially lower housing on the Island, and are working together to put our case forward to Westminster and Whitehall. A County Press report from last week indicates that Islanders back our stance on this – as evidenced in the letters page last Friday (including a letter from West Wight resident Peter Spink).
Working with the Council, I am keen to engage with fellow Islanders on the issue and build a broad coalition to allow us to fight for our community’s best interests.
We must make sure that we are building the correct type of homes that are focused on meeting the needs of the Island’s population. These homes need to be built in sensitive numbers, in existing communities, and in a traditional Isle of Wight style, while protecting our landscape. The Island needs smaller 1 and 2 bedroom properties to help older people downsize and younger people take their first step onto the housing ladder. Such developments would be right for the Island and have my complete support. However, that is not what the government is currently proposing.
The Island Plan Review is an important exercise which – once completed – will provide a framework for future decision-making on planning applications on the Isle of Wight, including housing targets as well as other key development plans for the Island for the next 15 years. Using the ‘standard method’ set by government to assess housing need, we would see some 9,615 extra houses, 65 per cent for market sale, and a majority on greenfield sites (based on allocated yields included in the Draft Island Planning Strategy Development Plan in November 2018). I am concerned that these numbers – if implemented – would irrevocably damage our landscape; quality of life; health and social care provision; and economy. There is no support amongst Islanders for this level of housing; let alone the need.
The Island’s landscape is at risk. Low-density, greenfield developments would cause towns to coalesce, with new homes being built on busy roads and away from shops and services. Our roads, hospital, and public services are all under pressure – the amount of water we import from the mainland will increase four-fold by 2050 under the current proposals. The target is unsustainable.
At the heart of the problem is a flawed methodology, arising from the Government’s policy approach. Our housing need is driven entirely by projected net internal migration of over 20,000 to the Island between 2017 and 2034, not current Island residents (based on ONS 2016 SNPP). The methodology uses out-of-date projections, which are now six years old and pre-COVID-19. It inflates our true need by applying an affordability adjustment, which artificially demands greater supply in order to increase affordability. This is however deeply flawed in the case of an area where new housing demand is driven by inward migration of retirees buying with asset wealth, not local people buying with earned income.
Accordingly, the target is undeliverable. There has been a consistent delivery cap of around 400 homes per year, and Island building industry is not capable of building the target set. Developers will choose which homes are delivered, and which are not. Naturally, this means the easiest, most profitable greenfield market sites are delivered first, whilst less profitable one- and two-bedroom homes for Islanders, young and old, go unbuilt. Zero affordable homes were built of 350 delivered in 2019. Just 18 affordable homes were built in the year before that. Evidently, we cannot rely on the market alone to deliver the housing we need.
The flawed and undeliverable targets would not only fail Islanders, but will exacerbate our social, economic and demographic challenges. Through an ageing profile of migration, and local ageing, all the growth in households is projected to be in the over 65 age group. The number aged over 85 is projected to more than double, with a projected 70 per cent increase of those with dementia, and a 58 per cent increase of those with mobility problems between 2016 and 2034.
The need for intervention is now more urgent than ever. As you will have seen reported, a new ‘Standard Method’ of assessing housing need, recently published for consultation by the Government, would see the housing target set out in the Island Plan of 641 DPA (dwellings per annum) increase by over 50 per cent to 1,045 dpa. The new affordability adjustment artificially inflates our housing need by 70 per cent, compared to the current 28 per cent, due to the addition of a multiplier for our 10-year trend in housing affordability (based on the methodology outlined in government documents). In this scenario, the Island, 50 per cent of which is designated AONB and 84 per cent of which is rural, would build more houses per year than either neighbouring Portsmouth or Southampton, both cities with major infrastructure and services, and populations almost 70 per cent larger than the Island. This amounts to c. 15,600 homes in 15 years, adding 23 per cent of the Island’s current total housing stock of c. 67,500 homes.
I do not oppose these homes for opposition’s sake. However, we need a new approach to planning, and to these targets. We need the Government to give us the flexibility to develop a local assessment of housing need with deliverable targets, for Islanders, not developers. We need to build the right houses in the right places. This means affordable, smaller homes, for Islanders young and old, levelling up the high street, empty properties and brownfield sites.
As part of my efforts to secure change on this issue, I am taking a number of steps – including working with other MPs – to seek a change in government policy. This includes:
Securing a backbench debate on Thursday 8th October on the subject of “planning reform and housebuilding targets in relation to the White Paper”;
Writing for The Daily Telegraph on Monday 28th September: 'Computer says no' house building plan is another own goal (reproduced on my website);
Writing to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, formally setting out my concerns about the current Standard Method approach to deriving housing targets (click here to view the letter).
As Cllr Dave Stewart has said, the Council now has the opportunity – in partnership with me as the Island’s MP – to make the case for a significantly different approach which has full regard for the unique characteristics and constraints of the Island. I particularly welcome his commitment to make use of many more brownfield sites to provide much-needed new homes for Islanders, and in doing so help revitalise our town centres.