A brief read of the newspapers and news websites might suggest that Brexit is the only issue occupying the minds of MPs at the moment, but that couldn't be more wrong. The need for more housing built in the right places continues is a priority for the Government.
Yesterday, the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, set out the details of the housing white paper in a statement to MPs. The new housing strategy for England includes ensuring that councils plan for their local housing needs and giving them powers to pressure developers to start building on land they own.
The government has said that at least 250,000 new homes are needed each year to keep pace with demand and local councils and developers need to be realistic about the scale of the challenge.
As part of the new housing strategy, a £3bn fund has been announced to help smaller building firms challenge major developers, including support for off-site construction, where parts of buildings are assembled in a factory. The time allowed between planning permission and the start of building will also be reduced from three years to two years. This is particularly relevant for Swindon, where we have agreed a Local Plan to allow housing development in certain areas but have seen worrying delay when it comes to the commencement of house building. I am glad that the Government is taking action to help ensure that planning consents result in speedier delivery of vital housing for our town. I will support development that is in accordance with our Local Plan whilst resisting speculative applications that pay no heed to our local environment or infrastructure.
The government will also provide more help to those who rent their homes by cutting rents and increasing the length of tenancy agreements.
A few weeks ago, I visited Osbourne Samuel Gallery in London’s Mayfair where Swindon’s nationally renowned collection of modern British art is currently being exhibited. Swindon owns one of the most important collections of modern British art in the country, with works by some of Britain’s finest modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, Alfred Wallis and LS Lowry. Some of the work is currently displayed in rotation at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in Old Town, but the space just isn’t big enough to show off our extensive and impressive collection. As you may have read in the Adver recently, The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery Trust will be applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £10 million towards the cost of a new, much larger, state of the art museum and art gallery, which will be built in Swindon town centre. Swindon Borough Council has also pledged £5 million towards the proposed landmark destination that would enable us to fully showcase our impressive art collection and attract many more visitors to the town. I would like to thank Gordon Samuel for generously offering his gallery space in Mayfair to help us to raise awareness of the collection.
Finally, I am pleased that funding has been secured so that Swindon Circles of Support can continue their fantastic work in the town following my intervention after the project was threatened with closure. This is a significant local project which has been making a real difference to the lives of elderly people. Volunteers from the project regularly visit more than 300 elderly people in the town who are experiencing loneliness and social isolation. Initiatives like Swindon Circles of Support help to reduce the problem of loneliness and ease the pressure on our NHS. I will continue to work with this local group over the coming months.