Levelling-up, housing and communities secretary Michael Gove has said that the government’s planning reforms outlined in the Queen’s Speech will enable residents to vote on property extensions taking place in their area.
Gove also said that the government would do all in its power to hit its housing target of building 300,000 homes a year in England by the mid-2020s, but emphasised that ensuring that homes being built were of sufficient quality could mean that it falls short of that target.
While acknowledging that more homes did need to be built, Gove told BBC Radio 4 that it would be “no kind of success to simply hit a target if the homes that are built are shoddy, in the wrong place, don't have the infrastructure required and are not contributing to beautiful communities.”
He added: “Ultimately, when you are building a new dwelling, you are not simply trying to hit a statistical target.”
The Tory target of building 300,000 homes per year was included in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto. However, owing to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic only 243,000 new homes were delivered in the party’s first year in office, followed by 216,000 in 2020/21.
BBC research carried out in 2020 suggested that there was a shortfall of one million homes between the housing stock available in England and the number of homes required.
Despite Gove’s take on the issue, his predecessor as housing secretary, Tory MP Robert Jenrick, recently warned the Commons that getting back to building a baseline figure of 250,000 homes per year had to be a priority if the manifesto pledge on housing was to be anywhere near satisfied.
He said: “We've got to get those homes built because we're letting down hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.
“People are homeless today because we're failing to build those houses. Young people's rightful aspiration to get on the housing ladder is being neglected because we're not building those homes.
“The only way in which we will get back to 250,000 homes a year and exceed it is if we together, on a cross-party basis, agree that that is not good enough and that we need to build more and find ways of doing that.”
The Conservatives’ plans to introduce planning reforms were seen as key to their success in the 2019 general election, but the proposals put forward by Jenrick at the time were met with opposition from elsewhere in the party.
Jenrick’s plans included a zonal system where local authorities were required to classify all land under their jurisdiction as “protected”, for “renewal” or for “growth”. Any proposed developments in “renewal” zones would have had to have been favoured by councils while any applications which conformed to pre-agreed local plans in “growth” zones would systematically receive initial approval.
Former PM Theresa May called Jenrick’s plans “ill-conceived” and other senior Tories suggested that they were central to by-election losses in Chesham and Amersham, which were traditional Tory strongholds.
Following a rethink with Gove having taken over the housing role, the government’s new raft of planning reforms was included in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, included in this week’s Queen’s Speech.
The Bill includes provisions for residents’ votes to give communities more control over developments and extensions in their area, as well as design codes to allow local communities to set rules on the layout of new developments.
The Bill also included a policy for a new infrastructure levy, which would be agreed on a local basis and will raise funds for projects such as schools, hospitals and roads by basing the sum on the value of the property when it is sold, rather than when it receives planning permission.
The planning system is also set to be digitised under the Bill, to make plans more accessible to people online.
With these changes, Gove said that he expected communities to be more supportive of new housing developments in their areas, rather than opposed to them.
“People, when it comes to housing development, should be partners. It shouldn't be a case that we impose,” he said.
“It is important that even as we seek to improve housing supply, we also seek to build communities that people love and are proud of.”
The Labour chair of the Commons housing select committee, Clive Betts, criticised the government's plans, suggesting that ministers ought to have simplified the process of building new housing and looked to involve local people in decisions about the placement of homes at an earlier than when planning permission is granted.
He also took aim at Gove’s plan to give local residents votes on extensions and developments, warning that it wouldn’t be possible to give residents the ability “to decide absolutely everything” about planning in their areas.
Image taken from Wikimedia Commons