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2015 April: Parliamentary Candidate Statements May 2015
Martin Lewis (Liberal Democrats)
Thank you for contacting me about Housing in Cheadle. You provided a four page briefing note and some photographs. Clearly, I am not in a position to provide answers to the many issues you raise, but I’m happy to provide you with some general information on the approach Lib Dems take to housing and rural development and to devolution. The latter issue may be relevant in clarifying who we think should be taking the decisions on the issues you raise and it should go without saying that our candidates in the local elections have an important role too. Taking these various themes together, I hope you will see how we would approach the issues you raise.
For people to live fulfilled lives they need a decent home at a cost they can afford. Liberal Democrats have set a bold and ambitious target to increase the amount of homes we build in the UK to 300,000 every year, more than any other mainstream party. These homes will be greener than the current housing stock because they will be built to a “zero carbon standard” meaning they will be better insulated and heated.
We need to build more affordable housing and I am pleased that the Liberal Democrats have made this a priority in Government. We have built 170,000 social and affordable homes since 2010 and have become the first Government for four decades to leave office with more social homes than we started with. Empty Homes have also been reduced to their lowest level for ten years under the Liberal Democrats.
We support doing more to help custom-builders and small-scale house-builders, who will both be crucial to achieving this target. I also believe we need to make more productive use of brownfield land for new housing.
On planning, I think neighbourhood plans allow local communities to shape their areas and decide what types of development they want to see and what types they don’t. I want as many communities as possible to develop their own neighbourhood plans. We want to go further though and our proposed Green Transport Act, one of five new green laws we’re calling for, would update planning laws so that new developments are designed around walking, cycling, public transport and the needs of the community.
Green space can also improve the environmental quality of an area with consequential health benefits. Some of the environmental benefits of green spaces include improved air and water quality, noise absorption and reduced ‘urban heat island’ effects. Additionally, green spaces can improve absorption of excessive rainwater and reduced surface water run-off reducing the likelihood of floods and sewage overflow, while protecting biodiversity and enhancing ecosystems.
However, urbanisation, population growth and demand for competing land uses are putting many of our green spaces under threat. Protecting local green spaces and making them accessible for public use is important for the health and wellbeing of society.
Our five new green laws include a Heating and Energy Efficiency Act to boost renewable and district heating, bring in tough new energy efficiency standards for homes, and introduce tax incentives and public investment and step up action on fuel poverty.
England remains a hugely over-centralised country with far too much power resting in the centre at Whitehall and Westminster. This means people locally often have little meaningful say over decisions that affect their areas, and local authorities lack real power to change the way public services are run for the citizens they represent. We believe services will be more responsive and more efficiently run if more control is devolved to government nearer to the people it serves.
If all local authorities in a contiguous area could agree that they wanted to join together and ask for more powers and responsibilities from Westminster/Whitehall then they would be able to. We would consult widely on what powers to make available, and the process. We envisage powers along the lines of those presently available to Wales being on offer (health, housing, education, training, agriculture/fish/food etc, culture, heritage, planning, roads, tourism) but anticipate that not every devolved assembly would take that level of power.
In some areas of England there is an even greater appetite for powers to be passed down from Whitehall, but we recognise not every part of the country wants to move at the same speed and there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. We will therefore introduce ‘Devolution on Demand’, enabling even greater devolution of powers from Westminster to councils or groups of councils working together.