A housebuilding campaign similar to those that took place after the world wars is needed, a Conservative former cabinet minister has said amid calls for the Government to build more homes.
David Davis was opening a backbench debate on housing in the Commons when he suggested the campaign, and he said one solution to housing shortages would be to build more garden towns and villages.
Conservative former housing secretary Simon Clarke, who has been vocal on the need for his party to better address the issue, told the Commons it was a “mistake” to weaken housing targets for councils across England.
The Government took the decision earlier this year in the face of a rebellion from a group of its own MPs.
Mr Davis told the Commons: “After the First and Second World Wars there were campaigns for ‘homes fit for heroes’. I think what we need now is a campaign for ‘homes fit for a new generation’.”
He added: “How do we get around the Nimby (not in my back yard) problem in its conventional sense? Well, I believe the answer is garden towns and villages, or one large part of the answer.”
The MP for Haltemprice and Howden said there was a “growing crisis” related to housing, but noted garden towns and villages are a “tried and tested policy” in need of 21st century “tweaks”, adding: “It’s not that new, but it is worth resurrecting.”
Meanwhile, Mr Clarke, who served as communities secretary in Liz Truss’s short-lived cabinet, said: “We need to establish clear targets for housing supply.
“Doing so is not some kind of Stalinist five-year plan; it is the best way we have yet identified to prevent councils from backsliding on their responsibilities and caving in to what are often small, if noisy pressure groups.
“It is my view that a regrettable decision taken by the Prime Minister last year to weaken those targets by removing their legal force was a mistake, which has already had far-reaching consequences.”
He added: “We risk becoming a profoundly unequal society fractured along the twin fault lines of low homeownership and unaffordable rents for cramped, undesirable properties. That is not progress. That isn’t something of which any of us can be proud.”
Conservative MP Kit Malthouse, who previously served as a housing minister, told the Commons: “I don’t think anybody thinks that we shouldn’t be delivering 300,000 houses today.”
He made the case for the “abolition of the Planning Inspectorate alongside hard targets on local authorities, but an absolute right for them democratically to choose where those houses should go in their area”.
And he called for the “viability test” to be removed, arguing people would end up seeing “realistic values” and “more land coming through” as a result.
Mr Malthouse also called for a greater focus on aesthetics for new homes.
Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, who was a vocal member of the group who pushed the Government to scrap its top-down targets, told the Commons: “It’s not an either or, it’s an and. Yes to new towns, yes to new villages, yes to these green garden villages, towns and cities, but we also need to get the system working.”
Mr Seely, who referred to himself as one of the “nimby rebels”, said he believes there is a “market failure”, adding: “We have a problem, but to say we are not building when we have built two-and-a-half (million) homes since 2010, and when since 2015 we’re building 222,000 homes a year, I think we have to slightly nuance the points that we’re making.”
Shadow communities minister Matthew Pennycook said the Government’s decision to water down housing targets “entails a deliberate shift from a plan-led system focused on making at least some attempt at meeting England’s housing need to one geared toward providing only what the local politics of any given area will allow”.
He added: “The next Labour government will fix this mess. When it comes to housing and planning, our overriding objective will be to get house building rates up… including, as part of that effort, markedly increasing the supply of affordable homes, and particularly genuinely affordable social homes to rent.”
Responding to the debate, communities minister Rachel Maclean insisted the Government “remains committed to its ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year”.
She went on: “All of our reforms are based on the principle that we will only deliver housing with the consent of communities and elected representatives at all levels because we know that wherever development takes place local people will express the same concern so we have to get it right.”