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Pickles accused of localism distortion

Housebuilders have accused communities secretary Eric Pickles of basing his flagship localism policy on a distorted view of the industry after he claimed planning policy was to blame for poor building numbers.

Speaking at a Home Builders Federation event in London, Mr Pickles told the industry the previous government’s system of regional planning targets had failed, resulting in the lowest number of homes being built for over 80 years.

He said that the coalition government’s approach, where local communities were incentivised into accepting development through the New Homes Bonus and the Community Infrastructure Levy, would lead to more houses being built.

But delegates accused him of misunderstanding the market by suggesting the regional planning targets were responsible for the collapse in development.

One housebuilder said: “We have heard you say that the system doesn’t work. I don’t have anything against your ideas but I do have something against the fact that as a government you are saying something everybody in this room knows isn’t true.

“We as housebuilders haven’t had the finance to build the houses and more importantly our purchasers haven’t had the finance to buy them so the least number of houses for 80 years is nothing to do with the planning system. It’s to do with the credit crunch we have gone through.

“If you want to introduce a different system, then by all means do that but don’t base it on something that’s not true.”

Industry figures last week raised concerns that measures in the Budget designed to help housebuilders would have little significant impact until the shortage of mortgages was solved.

The government has based its efforts on a shared equity scheme for first-time buyers, reform to the planning system and measures designed to boost land supply. But housebuilders are desperate for banks to lend money at lower rates to people with small deposits.

Mr Pickles said that despite the effects of the credit crunch, housing targets had worked against the market.

He added: “I fully accept that it might be comforting to developers to bulldoze their way through communities but I think it’s a much better way to get on side with communities.”

But delegates insisted there was a major difference between what he was saying and how local authorities actually behaved.

Mr Pickles accused the audience of misunderstanding the significance of the changes currently taking place and argued the new “presumption in favour of sustainable development is a very powerful tool”.

As the debate raged, Savills Oxford director of planning Roger Smith provoked further protest from the communities minister by asking if government had a back-up plan should localism fail to deliver more houses.

Mr Pickles replied that “Ukranian tractor factory production targets” had “failed in an overwhelming way”.

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