By Ben Sherreard
Earlier this week Kent MPs held a Westminster Hall debate to discuss housing in region. The debate, called by Gordon Henderson (Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey), saw many Members from the County raising the issue of the increased drive for more houses.
The argument put forward by Mr Henderson, and backed up by many of his colleagues, is that Kent (and by inference the South East) is victim to an unfair share of the burden when it comes to the demand for more houses. Members also stated that there has been far too little investment in infrastructure in the county in recent years, with Mr Henderson pointing out that infrastructure investment is now required to improve the lives of existing residents, not as a justification for further housing growth.
Another point raised was the issue of developers’ land-banking rather than building out permissions. While the Housing Minister Gavin Barwell MP did concede that this was an issue, he also pointed to long delays due to an over reliance of Local Authorities on pre-commencement conditions. Both of which, he alluded, would be tackled in the upcoming Government White Paper.
The main theme of the debate was the pressure Kent is under to deliver so many new homes, five times more than many other parts of the UK. With a lack of infrastructure investment the county cannot cope and residents are fed up.
As a proud Kent resident, I have to say that I don’t mind the fact that a lot of people want to live in the Garden of England. As the Housing Minister quite rightly said, the market economy dictates that demand is greater in Kent and as such a higher number of homes are required.
The trick is that Local Authorities, led by councillors, could do a better job of raising awareness of the benefits of housing. For Councils across Kent, Local Plans should not simply focus on Housing, rather they are about funding services and securing investment.
Councils are facing continued and increasing pressure on their budgets. That problem is not going to go away, especially if the agenda to devolve power to local authorities will also devolve cost. The most proactive Council leaders are looking to the housing crisis as their way out however, if played properly, councillors could promote the benefits of housing alongside proposals for increased funding for vital services.