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Supporting Bob Seely MP’s Campaign
We support Bob Seely’s campaign along, with that of the Isle of Wight Council, to have appropriate house building requirement for the Island set in the context of local need and not solely by Central Government policy or an algorithm.
Extracts from Bob Seely’s speech in the House of Commons on 8 October 2020 opening the debate, which can be read in full here, on “Planning reform, house building targets and the Planning for the Future White Paper”
That part of the debate which was applicable to the Isle of Wight is set out below:-
I will now make a few brief points about my constituency. The Government tell rural England that it needs to do its bit, and the Isle of Wight has a story that is similar to many others. Since 1960, the population of our beautiful small Island has grown by 50%—not 15%, but 50%. In the same period, the populations of Newcastle, Sunderland, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Stoke-on-Trent have all declined, not relatively but in absolute terms. The message from many parts of Britain is that we have been doing our bit for decades, and levelling up is about other people now doing theirs. The new standard methodology simply does not make sense for the Island. It is based on local income calculations, but housing demand in my patch, and others, is driven by other factors—in my case, the migration of retirees from across Britain.
I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend. The good folks who retire to the Isle of Wight use assets. They use cash from house sales, not income, to buy. Therefore, affordability criteria based on income make little sense and artificially inflate our housing need by 70%. Our targets have little to do with our need. The indigenous population of the Isle of Wight is expected to decline by 11,000. Official figures show that all our population growth until 2034 will come from those who are 65-plus, either indigenous or retirees. It is great that we have retirees—don’t get me wrong—and I look forward to being one, one day. However, the demographic imbalance damages our society as well as our economy. For the first time in 50 years, we need the White Paper to prioritise Islanders, young and old, and not primarily to build for a mainland retirement market. I have yet to meet a single Islander who disagrees with that agenda.
We face exceptional housing constraints. We have our own housing industry. As a legal baseline, our housing industry can build 200 to 250 units a year. We have managed 350 units in the past few years—not affordable, and almost all on low-density greenfield estates that damage our tourism economy. The Government might as well be asking us to lead a moon landing programme, for all our ability to deliver either the current targets or the new ones. We are being set up for failure, and like other Members, I find that difficult to accept. If the Minister wishes to build for young Islanders, I will show him where and how to build, and I will tell him what we need. The answer is not low-density greenfield sprawl, or the numbers demanded. The Isle of Wight Council and I are at one on that.
Time prevents me from going into other reasons such as infrastructure, all of which are made worse by the Island’s electricity, sewerage, water supply and hospitals, which are under pressure. In 40 years, we have had a 50% increase in population, and we had have half a mile of dual carriageway, and some cash last year to tinker with the wrong roundabout in Newport. Our 1938 rolling stock on Network Rail will now be upgraded to stock from 1970, which I suppose is modernity of a sort.
Bob Seely’s Newsletter 29 January 2021
I have asked the Government for further landscape protections. Currently, around half the Island is covered by the existing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation but I want to see more land protected. This is part of a wider strategy on environmentally friendly development of the Island, both in housing or growing ‘green’ industries such as wind and tidal energy.
I want the Government to consider three options: an extension of the existing AONB status to cover more of the Island, full national park status, or a new designation – an ‘Island Park’ – which would sit somewhere between the protection levels of that of an AONB and National Park.
I set out my vision in a virtual meeting with Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, and representatives from Natural England and DEFRA.
AONB status gives land greater protection than ‘normal’ planning rules and prevents large-scale green field planning, which I pledge to oppose.
The Prime Minister has set out his plans to designate and protect an additional 4,000 sq km of land across the country by 2030. I want the Island to be included in that.
I want the Government to recognise that the Island has a natural uniqueness which is worthy of further protection. We have a mixture of rare geology, unique beaches, some of the richest dinosaur finds in Europe along with chalk downs, marshy inlet and a lot more besides. We must protect them from harmful development.
Currently we have five parcels of land designated as AONB: most areas have one large continuous designation. I want us to get away from the field by field approach to designations and protect a much larger area of land.
This is not just about housing and protecting from overdevelopment: it is about protecting landscape in perpetuity and is part of a green agenda for the Island too. Where we build, we need to build for Islanders, in appropriate numbers, in existing communities.
It is clear that to push this agenda will require the full support of the local authority so I will be talking to the Isle of Wight Council to discuss how we can move forward.