Ex-chief of staff Gavin Barwell says planned model will favour London and surrounds
The former chief of staff to Theresa May has become the latest prominent Tory to criticise plans for a new formula designed to set local housing targets, saying it is “not consistent” with the government’s levelling-up agenda.
Former housing minister Lord Barwell, who was the last prime minister’s chief adviser, told the Create Streets conference that the revised standard method for calculating housing need, published alongside the planning white paper in August, appeared likely to focus building on existing high demand areas at the expense of the north.
His intervention follows reports that a grouping of up to 70 Tory MPs are mobilising to force a government U-turn on the government’s approach, which former minister Harriet Baldwin last week described as “Stalinist”.
This comes after the Local Government Association last week launched a broadside against the plans, which it said would impose three-fold increases in housing numbers on some constituencies in the South-east, while plans for new homes in northern regions would fall below current levels of delivery.
Lord Barwell (pictured, right, with May), who was May’s chief of staff when the first version of a formula for calculating housing need was devised in 2017, said the then prime minister had wrangled with the Treasury over the formula, with the department keen to concentrate housing numbers where demand was highest.
Barwell said: “If you follow that model, you are going to very heavily concentrate housing provision in London and the ring of local authorities immediately around London.
“Theresa’s view was, ‘hang on, my economic policy is all about trying to even up growth in this country, and provide better economic opportunities in the Midlands and the North, and surely housing policy should make a contribution to that?’”
He said the new formula, revealed in August, was “heavily back” in the Treasury’s camp – a move he questioned “given, politically, how much the rhetoric of this government is so much about levelling up”.
He said the new formula “was not consistent, I felt, with the government’s overall policy message”.
The LGA last week said that its modelling of the impact of the new formula showed that the requirement for homes would increase by 161% in greater London, 287% in Brighton and Hove, 294% in Dover and 194% in Tunbridge Wells.
In comparison, proposed housing targets for the north east would be 28% lower than the amount already being built, while the equivalent figure for the North west is 8% and in Yorkshire and the Humber 6%.
In addition, the LGA said growth will tend to be focused in rural rather than urban locations, with average growth compared to current formula of 59% in rural councils, compared to a 20% increase in major urban areas.