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Housing White Paper: Listening to the Countryside at last?

View towards Poole harbour from Purbeck Ridgeway with orchids in foreground View towards Poole harbour from Purbeck Ridgeway with orchids in foreground © Rupert Hardy

10th February 2017

On Tuesday 7th February, the Government published its long-awaited Housing White Paper. At times we have feared that this would herald a new assault on the countryside and yet another round of developer-driven planning changes.

That is certainly what some very well-funded and well-connected organisations and businesses have been pressing for.
 
Dorset CPRE is hugely heartened that the Paper promises continued protection of the Green Belt, support for more brownfield development, and to address the failures of the housing market as opposed to further meddling with the planning system – all fundamental issues CPRE has relentlessly banged the campaign drum on. There are also proposals to discourage developers from dragging their heels once they have the land and permissions needed to build.

CPRE campaigned strongly for these promises to be a core part of the White Paper, and they are a testament to what CPRE can achieve for the countryside with sound evidence and powerful, patient campaigning. CPRE is now working to influence the consultation on how to calculate the need for new housing.
 
While of course Dorset CPRE, as well as local residents, accepts that there is a need for more housing, especially affordable housing, it does not accept the unduly high number, 73,000 houses currently required by central government to be built in Dorset. It believes that such a number amounts to at least 150,000 new residents and 100,000 more cars by 2033, further squeezing our inadequate infrastructure. Also, the increasing pressure on our Dorset infrastructure services such as education and the NHS, which already suffers from staff shortage, does not seem to have been taken into account.
 
If we are to protect the countryside and prevent urban sprawl, it is essential that housing targets are local, honest, realistic and deliverable. The outcome of this consultation represents the acid test of whether the Government is able to protect the countryside while meeting its aspiration for more house building. 
 
Given these pressures, CPRE is supporting local communities across Dorset in fighting these unsustainable demands by central government for unacceptable housing numbers. The coming months are going to be incredibly busy for us - marshalling evidence, constructing persuasive arguments, and getting our message to the widest possible audience. There is a three month window for CPRE to respond to the White Paper and the consultation on the new housing targets methodology itself.
 
The full effects of the White Paper will take some time to unfold. Notably, the details of many measures in the paper are interwoven with an expected update to the National Planning Policy Framework later this year and the promise of a new standardised way of calculating Objectively Assessed Housing Need. Both present hazards for the countryside.
 

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Snowdrops at St Michaels Anderson churchyard, Dorset