Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Public concern about the government‘s housing plans for Hertfordshire drew 450 people on Wednesday, to a debate on Housing Need versus the Green Belt chaired by the Bishop of St Albans.

    Peter Lilley said: “Hertfordshire had always met government targets for house building without sacrificing the Green Belt – until the government suddenly jacked up the figure without giving any explanation of why suddenly even more houses are needed.”

    Peter Lilley said: “I believe we can preserve the Green Belt and still build more homes. I have always defended the Green Belt in Hertfordshire since raising the issue in my maiden speech in Parliament 20 years ago. The Green Belt is essential to provide green lungs between built up areas and to stop St Albans merging into Harpenden, Harpenden into Luton and Hitchin into Stevenage. Far from being redundant in the 21st century, the Green Belt will be crucial if we are to preserve a decent environment.”

    “Over the last 20 years we have successfully preserved our Green Belt while at the same time meeting government housing targets. That has meant allowing some infill development, using old industrial sites and a limited amount of peripheral development.

    “Indeed, Hertfordshire is currently ahead of government targets. We have already built 42,000 of the 66,000 houses the government required over the 20 years up to 2011. But the government has now jacked up the target to 72,000 houses over the 20 years to 2021; and recently threatened an extra 18,000 in their new growth corridors on top of that.

    “One reason we need more houses is that more elderly people are living alone; young people leave home earlier; and, sadly, families split up. So we would need more houses even with no increase in population. But government figures suggest this accounts for less than half the new housing demand in Hertfordshire. The main factor is the rising population – 80% of the expected growth in population is coming from people moving into Hertfordshire.”

    In response to suggestions from the floor that that is the result of immigration from abroad, Peter Lilley explained: “Only a small part of the growth in Hertfordshire is expected to come directly from people arriving from abroad. Most new immigration is into the greater London area. Greater London Authority figures show that last year the net inflow into London from abroad was about 100,000 people, to make way for whom, about 70,000 people moved out of London to places like Hertfordshire. So, ultimately, net immigration into the South East is an important contributor to growth in housing need.

    “The government forecast that, even on their conservative assumptions about future levels of immigration, the British population will grow by 5.6 million over the next quarter of a century and net immigration into this country will account for 86% of that increase.

    “In my view, the vast majority of immigrants are decent, hard working people. They are not scroungers and criminals. But they will need homes. If we continue to encourage mass immigration on this scale – for the first time in Britain‘s history – we will need a massive expansion in house building in the South East. We have to make a choice.

    “I would prefer that the level of immigration is balanced by the number of people moving abroad – in which case, we could continue to cope with the housing pressures without building on the Green Belt.”