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Michael Gove has threatened to strip local authorities of their planning powers if they fail to come up with plans to build homes, in a move to show the Conservatives are committed to addressing the housing shortage despite abandoning mandatory building targets.
The housing secretary said in an interview on Tuesday that local authorities in England would have three months to put in place plans to meet their housing needs, with those that do not comply potentially losing their planning powers indefinitely to independent planning inspectors.
“There is now no excuse for not having a [housing] plan in place and no excuse for not making sure that planning applications are dealt with in a timely fashion,” Gove told The Times, ahead of a speech on planning on Tuesday.
The government has been under pressure over its failure to reach its goal of building 300,000 new homes a year to tackle the UK’s acute housing shortage. Planning hurdles are a key obstacle to increasing housing supply.
Gove wants to boost the number of local authorities that have up-to-date “local plans” in place, which set guidelines for development in the area.
But he has faced criticism from housebuilders and opposition MPs for his decision late last year to abandon mandatory housing targets for local authorities after pressure from a group of backbench Tory MPs.
The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities secretary said last year these numbers would become “advisory”, in a concession to Tory MPs worried about a backlash from voters to building in their constituencies.
He confirmed on Tuesday that local councils would not have to set aside undeveloped “greenfield” land for housing, or approve developments that “significantly alter the character of an area or impinge on the greenbelt,” according to the Times.
Gove said he would give a green light to build 150,000 new homes around Cambridge and would review London’s housing plans, threatening to remove London mayor Sadiq Khan’s planning powers if he doesn’t introduce changes to boost supply,
The government is expected shortly to publish long-awaited changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which sets out planning and land-use policies for England. These changes are expected to lift the mandatory targets for local authorities, which are based on a calculation of housing needs in the area.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to bring back the local targets, as he tries to position Labour as “the party of home ownership”.
Victoria Du Croz, partner at law firm Forsters, said “the overriding concern of the industry is that the government’s proposals will lead to even less housing being delivered. The government has produced no convincing evidence to demonstrate how their reforms will deliver more housing”.
Research commissioned by the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the trade body for housebuilders, found that the changes to the NPPF could mean 77,000 fewer homes built each year. Housebuilding numbers have already dropped sharply this year, as high interest rates stalled the property market.
In a statement earlier this week, Stewart Baseley, executive chair of the HBF, said “the proposals to rid the planning system of targets and consequences, no matter how it is packaged . . . will result in fewer new homes and represents another victory for Nimby backbenchers”.