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Planning Targets in Epsom & Ewell

I was one of a number of MPs from the South East who spoke in Parliament on 8 October 2020. Please find below an extract from Hansard below to let you know the points I raised.

There is a transcript of the whole debate at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-10-08/debates/2496DD54-7CE6-4393-B8E0-477A7084D8FD/PlanningAndHouseBuilding.


Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con)`

We were elected 12 months ago on a platform of building more houses, and we need to build more houses; there is no doubt about that at all. But we were also elected on a platform of rebalancing our economy, protecting our green belt and looking after natural England. I am afraid that although I praise many elements of what the Minister is trying to achieve, this housing algorithm is completely inconsistent with the promises we made a year ago.

If we go ahead with a housing approach of the kind that the Government are setting out in the algorithm, the reality is that economic growth, the brightest and best people in society, and opportunity will continue to be sucked into the south-east of England. That is exactly the opposite of what this country needs to achieve. If we are to be successful in the future, we need to be more like countries such as Germany, where the economic centre of the nation is not in one place, but is spread out over a number of successful and prosperous cities. If one walks around the cities of the midlands and the north, it is clear that there is not a lack of developable land and opportunity; there is plenty. There are endless relics of more prosperous times for those cities in the past that can and should be regenerated for the future. The solution is not simply shoehorning more and more into the south-east.

I represent one of the constituencies that will be directly affected if the Government go ahead with this policy. The Office for National Statistics says that our future housing need is around 250 new houses a year. The previous target, which was unsustainable, was already 579. This algorithm would push the number to over 600. I represent an urban constituency where the available land is either green belt or parkland, but there are some opportunities. I have myself put forward to the local authority a proposal to build several thousand new houses by remodelling the commercial areas. We can build on the strengths of the area, which has one of the finest creative universities in the country, and create new business premises in an integrated urban village environment where people can live close to work. We can develop a new generation of digital and creative businesses. It is a real opportunity, which we can deliver.

We can deliver new homes—new homes aimed at first-time buyers and at the right demographic to keep people in our area—but what we cannot do is build 600 new houses a year in perpetuity. It is simply not possible. Actually, it is possible: by tearing up the manifesto commitments that we made a year ago and building all over the green belt. Even then, we will still probably need to build lots of tower blocks, which goes diametrically against the commitments we made about protecting communities.

In a nutshell, this policy simply cannot work for a constituency like mine. It is impossible to deliver it and keep the promises that we made to the electorate, and it is the wrong thing to do. It will have the counterproductive ​effect I have described of sucking economic activity into the south. It will destroy the environment in the area I represent. It will congest already congested infrastructure. Of course, it is also based on so many false premises, because, as with many other constituencies in Surrey, the algorithm forgets altogether the income from commuters by focusing on affordability, so it misses altogether the incomes of the most prosperous people in my area, who work elsewhere and get the train into the City in the mornings. It only focuses on the incomes of those who live and work in the constituency.

I praise the Government’s ambition. I simply say that the mode of implementation—the route they are currently following—is the wrong one for the country and for the constituency I represent. I urge the Minister, who is a good man, to think again, because I regret to say that, even as a loyal supporter of the Government, I cannot support this policy in its current form.