Rather than getting spades in the ground to build more much-needed housing, going by some of the reaction to Michael Gove’s speech this week, he’s all-but broken the shovel.
Yesterday, the housing and communities secretary announced the new and hitherto delayed National Planning Policy Framework, and he did so rather much in the manner of a stern headteacher berating pupils (or staff) for their tardiness.
Gove had some stern words for local authorities; the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan in particular. He essentially confirmed a watering down of housing targets – to the dismay of many – and vowed to name and shame councils that have no local plan in place.
The gist of his speech was to proclaim a government that is taking demonstrable steps to build more homes, and resolve the housing crisis, with a strong side-order of blaming the audience for any failure to deliver.
There’s a lot to digest, of course, not only in Gove’s speech, but in the now published planning framework, but initial reaction was mixed, albeit skewed towards some degree of dismay.
For Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, Gove has “effectively relaxed” housing targets and “undermined” the delivery of new homes.
“Millions of people in communities across England are affected by the housing emergency, and [these] changes risk further undermining the country’s ability to build the homes we desperately need,” she said.
“These changes, which effectively relax local housing targets, will result in fewer homes; and measures to get councils building and approving applications, whilst positive, won’t be enough to offset this risk.
“We’re concerned measures to protect the greenbelt at any cost will prevent otherwise sustainable developments, close to existing communities, from being built. Some greenbelt land is of low quality and limited value, and includes car parks and petrol stations. Given the chronic shortage of homes in England, it makes sense to use this land to deliver new homes, whilst protecting the parts of the green belt that are more valuable to our environment.
“Our research shows that, without urgent action, by the end of the next parliament nearly five million households will be living in unaffordable homes and 150,000 children will be facing homelessness.
“To solve the housing crisis, this short-term, piecemeal approach to housing policy and planning must end. As we head towards the election, we need all political parties to commit to a properly funded, nationally coordinated long-term housing plan that aims to transform the health, economic security, and life chances of millions.”
James Prestwich, director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “Whilst we are pleased to see today’s publication of the long awaited revised National Planning Policy Framework, the measures announced fall some way short of the action needed to address the national housing crisis.
“Requiring local authorities to have an up to date plan in place is a step in the right direction, but relaxing national planning targets undermines its impact, and will hamper efforts to build the homes, and particularly the homes for social rent, the country desperately needs.
“Clarity, consistency and support in the system are what is urgently needed. With gaps in skills, capacity, and resources, in planning teams the government needs a plan to support planning teams as enablers to development.
“We urge all political parties to commit to recognising housing as a foundation for creating healthy and sustainable communities and as a central part of national and regional infrastructure planning, matched by proper levels of funding to build the truly affordable housing we urgently need to see.”
Speaking for councils, Councillor Darren Rodwell, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, said: “People want their local area to have high-quality affordable homes built in the right places, supported by the right infrastructure, and councils stand ready to help government tackle local housing challenges.
“This is best achieved through a local planning system with public participation at its heart. So we are pleased government has confirmed that housing targets will become an advisory starting point, which will take into account local circumstances.
“The reality is that planning is not a barrier to house building. Nine in 10 planning applications are approved by councils, despite significant resourcing and capacity issues across the country.
“In order to help increase the speed of local plan-making and housing delivery, we urge the government to bring forward consultations on a revised National Planning Policy Framework and National Development Management Policies, which will form the backbone of a new style of plan-making due in Autumn 2024.”
Clive Betts MP, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing & Communities Committee in Parliament, said: “We have a national shortage of housing in England but the secretary of state’s speech didn’t provide clarity on how we are to achieve the national housing target of building 300,000 net new homes per year by the mid-2020s. For all the talk of getting tough with local authorities, without mandatory local housing targets, it’s not clear how many houses will need to be built in local areas to deliver the national target.
“Often objections to developments are about concerns of a lack of infrastructure – are there enough schools, GPs, parks, and recreation spaces to help support the residents of new homes? The secretary of state didn’t spell out any plans to bring forward this investment in local services and amenities or how it would be paid for.
“The 35% urban uplift figure is apparently arbitrary, not calculated based on local housing need in the areas where it applies, and the government has failed to take the opportunity to spell out how this will deliver more housing.
“Councils are hit by a range of financial pressures and there is a pressing need for additional resources for local planning authorities to ensure the planning system works efficiently. The government must ensure local planning authorities have the investment and specialist skills to help speed up the planning process.”
Andrew Shephard, managing director at modular housebuilder TopHat, said a presumption in favour of development is welcome.
“Its welcome that as part of his planning and housing speech Michael Gove has announced a presumption in favour of sustainable development – a policy that mirrors our own calls to ministers as one of the initiatives needed to turbo charge the innovative volumetric modular housing sector.
“While the devil will be in the detail, the approach could act as a catalyst for increasing the planning permission granted to deliver our beautiful, green, volumetric modular homes. More widespread use of volumetric modular new homes, which are ultra low embodied carbon and exceptionally low energy to run, has the potential to materially help deliver net zero while also addressing the housing crisis.”
Muniya Barua, deputy chief executive of BusinessLDN, said: “With new housing starts in London having fallen off a cliff, the government is right to focus on measures to boost supply.
“It should, however, tread carefully to avoid undermining London’s devolution settlement, including the Mayor’s responsibilities for the London Plan.
“Unlocking the homes London needs will require collaboration at all levels of London government but one step central government must urgently take to boost the construction of new homes is to issue guidance on second staircases in tall residential buildings. The lack of clarity on this issue is currently the biggest blocker of construction in London.”
Image credit: Jakub Junek/Shutterstock
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