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P*** poor planning?

But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we’ll not fail.

I’m finding myself rather taken with Nick Boles, the Planning Minister.

It takes a lot for me to admit this, him being a Tory and all, but I’m a weeny bit impressed by the chap’s proverbial cojones in going to the Council for the Protection of Rural England and telling them that we need to build more houses in the countryside.

Especially since Boles’ father was chairman of the National Trust, the organisation at the forefront of the opposition to the NPPF, the new planning framework proposed by his own department.

The CPRE are rather like the WI or Mumsnet or, indeed the National Trust, you mess with them at your peril. But Boles was not to be deterred. His assertion that there is far less of a landbank waiting to be built on by housebuilders than everyone thinks didn’t go down too well. However, he pushed on.

His argument was built around his belief that if we as a nation don’t build some life into rural areas then those areas will die. And he has a point. How many times do we drive through chocolate box villages that have houses called ‘The Old Post Office’, ‘Red Lion House’ and ‘The Old School House’ where there is patently neither a post office, a pub, nor a school? If there’s a bus service then it’s likely to be once every couple of hours.

Boles told the CPRE: “What these villages need is some noise, bustle, young blood, teenagers kicking a ball around after school, teenagers sitting on a wall nervously flirting, young mothers and fathers reaching for a pint in the local after an hour digging the vegetable patch or doing the ironing.

If people are not around to mend the church roof then it isn’t a community it’s a museum exhibit, not so much protected as embalmed”.

He’s right. We need more houses built. We also need to make sure that they are built where people want to live, near where they work, near where their children go to school.

What we need is a sensible approach to building more homes in communities where, without those homes, that community might die. Youngsters growing up in rural areas all over the country are being forced to move to areas where they can find jobs. Often it’s forever because once out of the village they can’t afford to move back because the only options are too expensive, reserved for second-homers and Down-from-London-commuters, used to London prices.

We do, of course, also need to have greenery and farmland and woodlands and heath and common land and the CPRE and the National Trust have been vocal in the extreme in wanting to ensure that we do.

But Boles, it seems, is not all about riding rough-shod over the countryside with hideous modern boxes either. He had already told housebuilders – a possibly unpalatable truth – that allowing large scale poorly designed housing developments near existing communities can damage house prices.

He told the National House Building Council: “If you design better places, if you design more beautiful buildings, communities will release land for development.”

People, he said, would not object quite so fiercely if they think that the thing that is going to come down the end of their road is something that might actually add to their house value not undermine it.”

And he’s right.

There are two sorts of conversations we could have in villages 1): “I can’t believe they’re building a load of hideous, modern houses with no gardens over on the old Fisher’s Farm fields. We’re losing so much green space and wonderful views”,

Or 2): it’s a shame we’re losing the views over Fisher’s Farm field, but at least we’ll be getting some nice little houses that the young people in the village can afford, so the teachers and the nurse from the health centre have somewhere to live.

Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture, which is where Boles is coming from.

So, there you go. Good for you Mr Boles. Just don’t me started on Osborne, Barker or your former flat-mate, the odious Gove.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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