Minister sees boom for rural parts

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock
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The countryside economy is on the verge of its biggest boom in more than 200 years, the Planning Minister has said as he made the case for a massive house-building drive across the green fields of England.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Nick Boles suggested the roll-out of superfast broadband will provide the biggest boost to the rural economy since the advent of industrial technology in the early 19th century – but said it must come alongside an unprecedented wave of house-building.

“I’m one of the great optimists,” he said. “I think for the rural economy, the next 50 years are going to be better than anything it’s seen for a couple of hundred.

“Suddenly people can run businesses without leaving their pretty village in a way that never possible before.”

Mr Boles, a Tory moderniser who was handed the key planning brief in last September’s Government reshuffle, has made headlines since his appointment for repeatedly insisting a huge wave of construction work must take place across rural as well as urban areas to solve Britain’s worsening housing crisis.

He said only a “tiny part” of the UK is currently developed, and there is no choice but to consider green- as well as brownfield sites for housing developments.

“We can do a lot on brownfield, and I want us to use as much brownfield as we possibly can,” he said. “It’s a big contribution – but it’s not the whole story.”

He went on: “One of the annoying things about the term ‘greenfield’ is it suggests undeveloped fields are green. Bluntly, many of them are not.

“Many of them are pretty undistinguished, pretty scruffy.

“And the reason why it makes no sense for a Minister to tell where to develop is that every community knows where those places are.

“And yes of course the immediate neighbours will object, because broadly speaking they would rather not have a house in their view. But I’m afraid there is no in-built right when you buy a house that nothing changes in your immediate vicinity.”

Mr Boles said the coalition had scrapped Labour’s system of top-down housing targets, and that he intended to use “moral pressure” to convince people to allow developments in their local areas.

“It does need to be a decision that’s made locally,” he said. “So I hope people will be reassured that we’re not bringing back targets and we’re not making these decisions from Whitehall.

“But I am really going to put moral pressure on people. If that’s your response [to object to every nearby development], tell me where the next generation’s going to live. And justify to those kids why they have to grow up in a tiny flat without any green space.”

Earlier this week the Government unveiled a new scheme whereby communities will be given money to spend on local facilities in return for allowing new developments nearby.

“We’re not forcing anybody to do anything, because we don’t believe that forcing works,” Mr Boles said. “It’s as simple as that.

“I think the last Government demonstrated beyond any misunderstanding that it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at a problem, and how many targets you attach to it, that unless 
you persuade people [it won’t work].

“We’re an old democracy and people won’t be rolled. You’ve got to persuade people.

“I will often speak in pretty stark terms [about the housing shortage], because I believe it to be true about the misery that the current position is causing, and the effect it’s going to have on the grandchildren of the people who are perhaps most likely to object to developments.

“But I’m never going to get into the game of compelling people.”