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Rishi Sunak must start building on the green belt in the national interest, Ken Clarke warns

Rishi Sunak must start building on the green belt, former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke has insisted, after official figures showed housebuilding continued to lag behind demand.

Data released on Friday by the Office for National Statistics showed the number of new houses completed in 2021/22 was 205,340, way short of the 300,000 a year pledged by the Tories in their manifesto.

The figures came just a day after the latest net migration data revealed that around 600,000 more people entered the country than left, placing further pressure on the already overheated housing market.

The situation has prompted Tory big beast Lord Clarke to warn the Prime Minister that he must make unpopular decisions in order to solve the current crisis.

Asked if Mr Sunak should reinstate national housebuilding targets, which he was forced to scrap in order to avoid a damaging backbench rebellion, the Conservative peer replied: “300,000 is the minimum we need.”

He added that while the green belt “is a very valuable idea in principle”, he insisted it now consisted of “lines on the map years ago”.

“A proper green belt should not exclude you from building on most of the things we have now,” Lord Clarke said.

Speaking to Times Radio, the veteran Conservative said Mr Sunak needed to be bolder with his policies.

“Most of the difficult decisions you have to take in government are never popular and they don’t immediately win you votes,” he said. “Every policy I ever implemented throughout my years under [Margaret] Thatcher, and I was there from the beginning to the end, were always unpopular, I was quite a hated figure. You have to do what’s necessary in the national interest.”

As such, he called on the Government to reform the planning system to make it easier to build. “We urgently need to tackle the absurd planning system and the legalism and everything that makes you go through the expensive years of struggle just to build houses on ordinary agricultural fields,” he said.

Mr Sunak has refused to allow houses to be built on the green belt, sparking bitter divisions within his own party.

Lord Clarke’s comments echo those of the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who pledged last week to allow councils to build on the greenbelt where applicable in an attempt to kickstart housebuilding in the UK.

Labour is expected to set out further reforms to the planning system in the coming months, which will make the system more “predictable and efficient”.

Government sources have privately acknowledged that housebuilding is in need of a dramatic increase, but have steadfastly refused to relent on opposing housing developments that do not meet high design standards.

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