The Government's levelling up agenda needs to take many areas into account if it is to come close to succeeding. David Simmonds argues that planning is one such crucial area.

The reforms to the planning system is an area of work which is a major focus for the Government and so with this in mind I think we need to consider how best we can ease the pressures on first time buyers, and prevent the current challenge for young people becoming any harder.

The first thing we need to take account of is how the pandemic is changing the demand and expectations that buyers have going forward. We are seeing lots more people moving away from the centres of big towns and cities and into the suburbs and rural communities. People are wanting to live in larger homes which can facilitate home working, so we need to factor this in when considering the types of housing provisions which local communities need in their area.

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For communities like mine in Ruislip, Northwood, and Pinner the local representatives are well placed to approve the sorts of developments we need, and this will be likewise the case for communities across the country as different local requirements shift. In Ruislip, Northwood, and Pinner we don't necessarily need new first homes but instead need more step-down homes. This will provide for the elderly members of our community, helping them to stay within the areas they know and with their family and friends close by. This also allows for the existing housing stock, which is often under occupied, to be returned to the housing market. Measures such as this help to put an extra rung on the top of the ladder, allowing everyone to move up, including first time buyers. We also find that housing developments such as this are politically a lot easier for communities like mine to accept, rather than a lot of fresh new builds for first time buyers.

Through the lens of levelling up we also need to look at how we can simultaneously drive up the housing demand in the Northern areas of the country, as well as ease some of the pressure on housing supply in London and the South East. The sad reality is that in cities like Liverpool we have seen large numbers of properties left unoccupied because there are not enough people to fill them and with them often being torn down as a result. Addressing the so called "brain drain" to the South, will do a lot to help rebalance this housing demand. If young people can see good jobs in their areas, we can tackle the damaging mindset that to do well in life you need to move to London.

The Government are already taking a lead on this and have committed to move 22,000 civil service roles out of London. The new 'Treasury North' campus in Darlington is the first step on this path and it will deliver benefits for people across the Tees Valley. However, this is just the start and where the Government are leading, others should follow. Regional mayors are in a fantastic place to champion their regions and drive up investment in all corners of the UK, so that no matter where you live there are good career opportunities and young people can genuinely strive to own their own homes within their communities.

The final element of this work is ensuring that planning system works for all. I am supportive of plans to free up the planning system and back smaller independent developers, but this should not be done in such a way that it overrides local decision makers. As I have stressed time and time again, local representatives know their community needs best and they should have the autonomy to deliver the types of housing required. Over a million homes which were granted planning permission over the past 10 years have not yet been built and from my own experience, a site I granted planning permission for in 1998, has been sold on numerous times as an investment and never been built on. To me it seems the main issue we need to address is not based in the planning system but in ensuring these permissions are actually delivered on. Planning needs to serve the needs of people, not just the needs of developers.

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