Column: Deliver the housing we need

Angela Smith
Angela Smith
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Readers of The Star will be aware that the UK faces a period of potentially very damaging political and economic instability as the Government enters into Brexit negotiations with other European Union states.

We must not forget, however, in the midst of this strategic debate about Britain’s place in the world, that local issues remain critically important.

One of the biggest issues confronting my constituents relates to housing.

Both the local councils that cover my constituency, Sheffield and Barnsley, are working towards completion of their local plan. The local plan determines sites for future housing development and is based on allocations handed down to local authorities by government.

As things stand, Barnsley is now in the third phase of consultation and we await further announcements from Sheffield, which hopefully will present firmer proposals for sites considered suitable for development.

My frustration with this process is the Government’s ideological approach to house-building. Yes, we need more homes – many more homes, in fact. But more than anything else we need affordable homes. We also need to ensure that new-build housing is sited as much as possible in brownfield areas, because although every community has to play its part in meeting housing need, this must be balanced with the need to protect our lovely countryside and our green belt areas. The problem is, the sites most attractive to property developers tend to be in high-value areas; green field and green belt sites are particularly attractive, for a range of reasons.

The Government, however, seems to think that developers can be left to shoulder almost single-handedly the job of delivering the housing we need. It refuses to accept the potential role of local councils and the public sector in helping to meet local housing demand, a role which would deliver more of the housing we need, where we need it.

I don’t blame developers for wanting to secure higher returns on their investment by building in high-value, rural areas. I do blame Government, however, for wilfully ignoring the realities of the crisis we face in housing. Communities in my constituency are up in arms at what they see as unsustainable plans for housing expansion, while many of my younger constituents face up to a future where buying a house is an impossible dream.

There is a need for political debate to remove these ideological obstacles to delivering the housing we need.