Algorithm at the centre of planning reforms!

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor

Thursday August 27 2020, 12.01am, The Times

Ministers are reviewing an algorithm at the centre of planning reforms after a backlash from Tory MPs.

Under the changes to planning laws, local discretion over the rate of housebuilding will be removed and central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, between local councils that will be required to designate enough land to meet the target.

Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, has suggested that outside London much of the new housing will be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and the shires, rather than in town centres.

The Spectator reported that the algorithm, which is under consultation, was likely to be changed. “At the top of the housing ministry there is an acceptance that a more refined formula is needed,” it said.

However, the government is retaining its central objective of building more homes in areas with the worst affordability. “It is delusional to think that the housing problem can be solved by developments in ‘Labour cities’ while leaving ‘Tory shires’ untouched,” the magazine said.

This means that there will be a significant rise in the number of homes in relatively affluent, predominantly Tory-controlled areas such as the shires.

The reforms have been met with opposition on all sides of the party. In London, Tory MPs are concerned that they will have to accept a huge increase in new homes in their constituencies, leading to concerns about quality.

Elsewhere Tory MPs argue that more homes need to be built in city and town centres, on brownfield sites rather than on greenfield sites.

This week Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough, Leicestershire, raised concerns that under the government’s plans fewer houses would be built in many city centres, putting more pressure on suburbs and the countryside.

“Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ‘level up’ to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering,” he told The Times.

“It would be quite difficult to explain to Conservative voters why they should take more housing in their areas to allow large Labour-run cities nearby to continue to stagnate rather than regenerate.”

According to Lichfields, new housing will be built predominantly in London and the southeast. The number built in London would nearly treble, to 93,532, and in the southeast would increase by 57 per cent to 61,000.

The increase in the East of England would be 52 per cent, the East Midlands 33 per cent, the West Midlands 25 per cent and the South West 41 per cent. The North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber would all have lower overall numbers of homes built than the present three-year average.

There are significant disparities within regions under the model. In Leicester new homes would fall by 32 per cent, compared with a rise of 70 per cent across the rest of Leicestershire. In Nottingham housebuilding would fall by 30 per cent, but for the rest of Nottinghamshire it would rise by 73 per cent. In Liverpool new homes would fall by 59 per cent.

Mr Johnson has promised to rejuvenate the economy with a “build, build, build” strategy. Councils are to be given up to three and half years to designate areas for growth, renewal or protection. Once agreed, however, local politicians will have little or no say over specific applications that fit the rules.

Ministers have insisted that local residents will be consulted about how land is designated. They are braced, however, for opposition from councils, especially Tory-controlled local authorities. Requirements for developers to provide affordable housing are to be relaxed.

Mr Johnson and his senior adviser Dominic Cummings have long railed against the planning system, which they argue puts Britain at a disadvantage against international competitors.

A spokesman for the ministry of housing said: “The Planning for the Future White Paper sets out longer term reforms which will bring forward a simpler, more transparent planning system with a much greater emphasis on good quality design and environmental standards.

“In addition, the consultation on changes to the current planning system sets out the elements we want to balance when determining local housing need, including meeting our target of delivering 300,000 homes, tackling affordability challenges in the places people most want to live and renewing and levelling up our towns and cities.”

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor

Thursday August 27 2020, 12.01am, The Times


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