We don't need to build on green belt land to solve housing shortage, says minister

Housing minister Gavin Barwell said that rural areas don't need to undergo large expansions to solve housing issues. (Photo: PA)
Housing minister Gavin Barwell said that rural areas don't need to undergo large expansions to solve housing issues. (Photo: PA)
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Britain's housing shortage can be resolved without building on "large tracts" of green belt land, a minister has said as the Government prepared to publish its long-awaited housing white paper.

Housing minister Gavin Barwell said the Government wanted to encourage more housebuilding of all kinds - including more social housing and the provision of homes to rent.

But he insisted that the white paper, expected to be released on Tuesday, would not propose any change to the rules on the green belt.

"We are not going to weaken the protections. We have a clear manifesto commitment. there is no need to take huge tracts of land out of the green belt to solve the housing crisis," he told ITV1's Peston on Sunday.

"They (councils) can take land out of the green belt in exceptional circumstances but they should have looked at every alternative first. That policy is not going change."

However his comments failed to reassure Conservative critics who warned that local authorities were already encroaching on green belt land.

Former minister Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, said large numbers of homes had been approved for green belt land in the West Midlands without any objection by ministers.

"We have seen in Birmingham a monstrous plan put forward by the Labour council to build 6,000 on our treasured green belt and it has been waved through by ministers," he told Peston on Sunday.

Mr Barwell, acknowledged that the white paper would represent a "change of tone" from past Conservative housing policy which had concentrated on promoting home ownership.

It will include proposals to amend planning rules to enable councils to plan for more build-to-rent-properties as well as measures to ensure more secure, longer term tenancies are available in the private rented sector.

"Absolutely we want to be a Government that helps people that are working hard to get onto the housing ladder but if you are going to have a country that works for everyone you have to have something to say to people that want to rent a home as well," he said.

He said however that ultimately there had to be more housebuilding if people were going to be helped into affordable homes.

"Housing has become more and more unaffordable for people who are trying to buy or trying to rent because governments for 30 or 40 years have not built enough homes," he said.

"We want to see more housing built in this country of every kind. At the moment we are far too dependent on a small number of large developers building our homes.

"We need to get more people involved in building homes and more different kinds of tenure - for outright ownership for shared ownership, for renting."

Mr Barwell indicated that the white paper would also include measures to stop so-called "land-banking" by developers who obtain planning permission for a site but then do not build on it.

"Part of the solution to our housing problems has to be to ensure that when people get planning permission it gets built. You can't live in a planning permission so we need to get homes coming out of the ground quicker," he said.