• Nick Boles:  New towns are out of sight so won’t be objected to

    11th January 2013 | News | Claire
  • The minister charged with unleashing a housing boom has admitted going on a “journey” from “Nimby” opponent to building near his family’s Westcountry home, to enthusiasm for new development.

    Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, yesterday told the Western Morning News he would deploy “moral pressure” to get critics to accept more house-building.

    The Conservative MP, who grew up in Devon, said Britain’s shortage of affordable homes represented a “crisis in social justice” as he signalled vast swathes of countryside should be offered up to new developments.

    Mr Boles recalled his family’s unease at proposals to build an estate on the edge of Talaton, near Ottery St Mary, East Devon, next to their home.

    But in retrospect, he argues it was a “powerfully good thing for the village” – reviving the local pub and shop and providing houses for young people.

    “That journey we all went through as a family,” he said. “Now we look out at the estate and it looks like it has always been there.”

    Mr Boles, MP in rural Lincolnshire, added that the recent 6,300-home Cranbrook settlement in East Devon was the scale of development needed to avert opposition – arguing that new towns would be out of sight of critics and be received more favourably than smaller estates bolted on to villages and small towns.

    A house-building boom would also end the growing trend of locals being squeezed out of rural and coastal villages in Cornwall and Devon because of second-home owners. “More land, more house-building – that will be the only long-term fix to this problem,” he told the WMN.

    Mr Boles yesterday conducted a round of interviews to promote a policy to boost house-building, and warned people had to realise that “either they will spend their retirement propping up their kids and their grandkids, or they can accept more development so their grandkids don’t have the problem”.

    Mr Boles said communities would be offered cash through the Community Infrastructure Levy – which he described as a “bung” – in return for accepting new housing.

    He argues just 9% of land in the UK is developed, and increasing the footprint by a fraction would prompt greater house-building. Some 40% of land would remain immune from building through protections including “green-belt” status, he said.

    The minister is the son of Sir Jack Boles, the former head of the National Trust and ex-High Sheriff of Devon.

    Mr Boles junior said Devon is “one of the most beautiful counties we have” but that young people have housing needs.

    While acknowledging the “very controversial” Cranbrook development is not perfect, without the settlement “then you would have to cater to the same need”. “You would have to build in every village and every little town,” he said. “They are tough choices. They have to be made locally because they are the only places where you can make trade-offs. What we are trying to do is offer an incentive, as well as the moral argument.”

    He said developments of this size are likely to court less opposition from “Nimbys” – or those who say “Not in my back yard” to building – as the only “people who are going to see it are the ones that are in it. And they’ll be happy because they’ve just bought their first house”.

    Mr Boles, 47, said his family’s unease at building in Talaton close to his grandfather’s farm – when he was 12 years old – was a “classic”.

    “My father and I have talked about it often,” he said. “We all have realised that actually that development – while I’m not saying it couldn’t have been improved – it was a powerfully good thing for the village.

    “It revived the village, it meant it was able to keep a pub going, it meant our community shop has survived and provided housing for young people.

    “That journey we all went through as a family. Now we look out at the estate and it looks like it has always been there.”

    He added that if local planning authorities decided to go ahead with a housing development, those affected had little right to complain.

    He said: “I’m afraid there is no in-built right when you buy a house that nothing changes within your immediate vicinity.”

    Mr Boles, planning minister since September, said the dominance of second homes in desirable parts of the region – in St Minver, near Rock, North Cornwall, more than 42% of homes are owned by part-time residents – is “fixed” by making all houses more affordable.

    He said: “You don’t hear much of these sorts of problems in Germany, because houses are cheap enough generally that even with pressures from holidaymakers and second home owners, people are able to get on the ladder. More land, more house-building – that will be the only long-term fix to this problem.”