This article by Bob Seely MP was in the Daily Telegraph on 28th September 2020.
The Telegraph has revealed the full extent of plans to unleash a wave of greenfield housing over rural and suburban England. It amounts to the suburbanisation of many rural areas and the urbanisation of many suburbs.
At this difficult time, it's critical that the Government and backbench MPs work supportively together. However, we also have a duty to articulate our constituents' concerns.
This latest own goal comes thanks to a new algorithm for assessing house building. The new housing targets can, apparently, simply be adopted without debate.
I'll be blunt: the new numbers are grim: environmentally unsustainable, they heap further pressure on stressed suburban and rural roads and rail, and in many constituencies they won't help first-time buyers. In the process, decision-making will be removed from communities.
We all agree we need to build housing, but we need to build the right housing in the right places.
Conservatives at the last election stood on a manifesto of "levelling up" - an integrated approach to supporting infrastructure, jobs and house building to revive primarily urban, Northern and Midland communities. Yet a year after winning an election promising a renaissance for forgotten areas, are we now doing the opposite?
The key fact is this: cities across England are being asked to build relatively less compared with the rural and suburban areas around them.
So, compared with the current method, over 15 years - the life of an average local plan - Southampton's target will fall by 2,511 houses while Hampshire rises by 26,040 to 115,644; Nottingham city falls by 3,782, while Nottinghamshire rises by 25,173 to 71,609.
The glaring exception is London, which also sees exponential rises.
Across swathes of the North West, Yorkshire and the North East, three dozen local authorities have targets lower than their existing local plans.
Instead of levelling up the North, I fear we are concreting out the South.
This bizarre algorithm has been unleashed in the name of affordability; sadly, it's likely to make little difference. First-time buyers want one- and two-bed houses in existing communities, not four-beds in car-dependent greenfield sites favoured by developers, who are already sitting on nearly a million unbuilt planning permissions.
Rural England has been told for years that it "needs to do its bit". Well, my constituency, the Isle of Wight, tells a story similar to many. Since 1961, the population has grown by 50 per cent. By comparison, many Northern cities have declined. The island now has overdevelopment pressures. Our transport network is, with the exception of half a mile of dual carriageway, the same as the Victorians bequeathed us, minus most of the rail.
The island is a Unesco biosphere, yet we are being asked to near double our already unachievable housing target from 688 to 1,045 dwellings per year.
The Government might as well ask the island's council to develop a Moon-landing programme for all the likelihood of achieving those targets.
I fear, like Little Britain's Carol Beer, a "computer says no" culture is creeping into Government. The algorithm row is an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.
Those in Red Wall seats will see little change as cash goes to the shires. Shire voters will react with anger at swathes of greenfield planning. Labour in the North will accuse Red Wall Tories of failure to deliver. Lib Dems in the South will claim to champion local democracy. As policies go, it's a double whammy of lose-lose. Only an algorithm could be this dumb.
If we get this wrong, come the next election, I fear it won't only be Carol's computer that says no.