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Response to Times article on housing

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While we are pleased that today’s leading article in the Times leading article welcomes Tuesday’s announcement to shake-up planning rules to boost housebuilding on brownfield sites, we disagree with its assessment that it does not go far enough to deliver more homes. The article fails to recognise the raft of reforms we have introduced to overhaul our planning system, turbocharge development and hold councils to account that fail to build the homes needed in their communities.

The article also wrongly states that the announcement will only deliver 11,500 homes in London – the London Plan Review suggests it could potentially result in 11,500 homes per year in the capital. Our announcement on Tuesday to extend these planning reforms across the country means more homes will be unlocked in twenty urban uplift areas than if action had been taken in London alone.

The reality is we will soon meet our key manifesto commitment to build 1 million homes over the course of this Parliament and our ambition to build 300,000 homes a year remains. Our record of delivery to date on housebuilding speaks for itself:

  • since 2010, over 2.5 million additional homes have been delivered and we have supported over 876,000 households into home ownership;
  • the four highest annual rates of housing supply over the past 30 years have all been delivered since 2018;
  • last year alone we delivered over 234,000 homes which was higher than at any point between 1997 and 2010; and
  • at the same time as increasing the quantity of homes we have been driving up quality, with the number of non-decent homes falling by two million since 2010.

We have been taking significant action to drive up building rates even further and faster, with reforms that target every part of our planning and housebuilding system.

  • Our Levelling Up and Regeneration Act has new laws in place to speed up the planning system further and cut unnecessary red tape. It ensures we do not just build more homes but that we build the right type of homes in the right places. It puts local communities at the heart of decision-making about developments which will help create proper neighbourhoods that enhance the environment and are built beautifully alongside GP surgeries, schools and transport links.
  • Last July the Housing Secretary set out his long-term plan for housing, outlining his plans for inner-city densification and housing delivery across England. This included ambitious work to accelerate developments in the heart of three cities: transforming Cambridge into Europe’s science capital complete with a new housing quarter; delivering a ‘docklands 2.0’ vision in East London creating 65,000 homes; and regenerating Leeds City Centre, removing barriers to help deliver up to 20,000 homes. As the Times leading article says, denser cities and urban areas help to deliver more homes in places most often affected by housing shortages.
  • In December the Housing Secretary announced a series of measures to build more homes and speed up the planning system in a speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects. This included publishing the National Planning Policy Framework and putting councils on notice that they would be held to account if they didn’t put a local plan in place. In this speech the Secretary of State issued a direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan-making that have failed not just to adopt a local plan but even to submit one to examination since 2004. He also designated two district councils for poor quality decision making – Chorley and Fareham – requiring them to put forward an improvement plan.
  • We are speeding up the planning system, launching a new planning super squad to help speed up large scale developments. To tackle backlogs in the planning system, we’re supporting the sector with the £29 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund – which received an extra £5 million at the Autumn Statement, as part of a £17 million package of planning measures to make it easier to get new homes approved and built. The Secretary of State awarded the first round of funding in December, with 180 local planning authorities receiving collectively over £14 million.
  • Underpinning this we are investing £10 billion in projects to increase housing supply across the country.

We make no apology for wanting to protect the Green Belt and our precious countryside for future generations, and for prioritising building on brownfield sites. The National Planning Policy Framework is clear changes to Green Belt boundaries should only take place if exceptional circumstances have been demonstrated.

Incentivising urban development and regeneration helps safeguard nature but we recognise there will always be cases where development must occur on greenfield sites, and our new biodiversity net gain tariff will ensure that any loss of habitat is more than made up for by developer investment in new or recovered landscapes, which will be homes for wildlife restoration.

Speaking about Tuesday’s announcement, Housing Secretary Michael Gove said:

Today marks another important step forward in our Long-Term Plan for Housing, taking a brownfield first approach to deliver thousands of new homes where people want to live and work, without concreting over the countryside.

Our new brownfield presumption will tackle under delivery in our key towns and cities – where new homes are most needed to support jobs and drive growth.

Further information

  • National Planning Policy Framework currently provides for a presumption in favour of sustainable development to be applied to a local authority where it scores below 75% in the Housing Delivery Test. The government is proposing that, for the twenty urban uplift areas, this presumption should be applied for applications on previously developed land (brownfield land) where an area scores below 95%.
  • The London Plan Review indicates that if a brownfield presumption in London resulted an acceleration of decisions to a rate in line with the next four largest cities or returned residential applications to the pre-London Plan approval rate and the rates of net additions previously achieved from those approvals, there could be between 4,000 and 11,500 additional homes per year in the capital.

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