Unpicking Michael Gove’s “Long-term Plan for Housing”
Following Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove’s, speech on Monday 24th July, Senior Planner Christian Milner, discusses how the proposed changes to the planning system will affect local authority resourcing, regeneration, and housing supply.
Michael Gove set out new measures to “unblock the planning system” and “build more homes in the right places where there is local consent” in his latest speech. The proposed reforms seek to alleviate resourcing issues that Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) often face while also announcing expansive ideas around regeneration and housebuilding aimed at urban areas.
Local Authority Resourcing
Gove announced a two-pronged approach to overcoming resourcing issues within planning department.
Firstly, there are various proposed changes to proposed planning fees which will effectively increase the revenue of LPAs on an annual basis, which in turn can be invested into resourcing planning departments across England.
The other key initiative is the immediate launch of a £24 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund “to clear backlogs and get the right skills in place”. LPAs will be able to apply for grants up to £100,000 to provide support with clearing backlogs of planning applications and/or skills funding.
Although developers will have to foot the bill for higher planning fees, Gove envisions greater certainty around the speed of planning decisions – an outcome we would all support.
Focus on Regeneration
Gove outlined a renewed focus on urban regeneration and intensification which will feature Cambridge as a testing ground, with a vision to…“involve growing beautiful integrated neighbourhoods and healthy communities while supercharging innovation and protecting green space”.
The press release states that:
“Rather than concreting over the countryside, the government will focus on prioritising building in inner-city areas where demand is highest and growth is being constrained. This includes a new urban quarter in Cambridge which will unlock the city’s full potential as a source of innovation and talent. Working with local leaders and communities in Cambridge, a new quarter will create new beautiful homes, supported by state of the art facilities with cutting-edge laboratories and green spaces.”
Bidwells has consistently championed the OxCam Arc, and the Science & Tech announcements are warmly received. During his speech Gove noted that graduates are often priced out of the housing market within Cambridge and therefore the ambition to build more homes is a necessity. Graduate retention will be essential to the successful growth of Cambridge as a world leading Science & Tech hub – homes should rightly sit alongside new R&D floorspace.
To support the plans for Cambridge Gove announced the formation of a “Cambridge Delivery Group” backed by £5 million to commence the scoping work and the detailed vision for Cambridge. Further information on the proposals has been published online which outlines some of the initial preparatory work including addressing infrastructure constraints such as water supply.
Gove also announced a ‘super-squad’ (yes you read that correctly!). Plannings equivalent of 'The Avengers’ has been dubbed as a:
“team of leading planners and other experts charged with working across the planning system to unblock major housing developments”. With their first deployment in Cambridge to “turbocharge our plans in the city”.
Guy Kaddish, Partner and Head of Cambridge Planning commented on Gove's announcement in his latest blog:
“The vision Michael Gove describes for Cambridge presents a place I would like to live in. One that has more homes people can afford, more publicly accessible open spaces of the highest quality, more laboratory floorspace to supercharge the research and development sector, an improved sustainable transport infrastructure and new cultural amenities. Of course, there will be a balance in the detail in the actual delivery, but as a vision, it is hard to argue with. A better place for all, while facilitating the ever-important science community in Cambridge to grow far more quickly than the current system has been able to achieve.”
Much of the detail and understanding around how the ambitious growth plan will be actioned is yet to come.
Development in Cambridge alone will not satisfy the level of housing delivery required. Former Chancellor Philip Hammond set a 300,000 per year housing target by the middle of this decade. In his answering of questions around the target, Gove claimed that:
“We haven’t changed our ambitions, our target on 300,000 at all. There’s been no change to that. There have been specific changes that we envisage in the National Planning Policy Framework which will allow those making local plans to take particular account of environmental constraints when meeting the numbers that the standard model produces, but that doesn’t affect the 300,000 target.”
Gove went on to pledge to meet the target, but claimed it was never mandatory. Housing targets are generally unpopular with the traditional Conservative voters and in turn MPs who view them as burden and likely push development into their backyards so to speak. The proposed National Planning Policy Framework amendments will conveniently provide a mechanism to give Council’s more power to negotiate and reduce their housing requirements.
City centre regeneration is already happening apace across the northern cities of England. But a strategy solely focused on regeneration will not provide the level of housing building that this country requires. city centre regeneration does have a vital role in house building but predominantly focuses on flats. This policy alone will not provide the types of, and level of housing on a scale that is required and desired.
When questioned by a report around his “piece-meal”, “top down” reforms compared to Labour’s approach:
“I don’t think the Labour Party are putting forward sweeping planning reform at all, all they have said is they want to see green belt land swallowed up”.
A free for all on the green belt is not in the interest of anyone. However, Government continues to overlook the fact there are areas of low value land designated as green belt, including previously developed land. Consideration should be given to undertaking a green belt review if the Government are serious about addressing the persistent under delivery of housing.
The proof will be in the pudding!*
*And whether the Conservatives remain in power long enough to see the proposals through