Lukewarm reaction to major announcement by housing secretary

Industry figures have given a lukewarm reaction to Michael Gove’s housing plans announced today, saying they do not go far enough in addressing the housing crisis.

Michael Gove today outlined a range of measures – many of which had been announced previously – the government is enacting to unlock the supply of housing in city regions.


Michael Gove speaking in London today

This included a review into the extension of permitted development rights, the launch of a £24m planning skills delivery fund and the establishment of a new “super squad” of expert planners, who will first be deployed in Cambridge to “turbocharge” the government’s plans for the city.

Gove confirmed the government will consult on reforming local plans to make them simpler, shorter and more visual. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said this would “show communities more clearly what is planned in a particular area so that they can engage more effectively”.

However, the package of proposals, while welcomed in part, have been seen as falling short by industry experts.

Mark Vlessing, chief executive of developer Pocket, said: “While we welcome the government’s announcement to support housing delivery across England, we remain concerned that the announcement falls short of providing immediate solutions to the growing challenges facing an industry under siege.

“We need housing today, not tomorrow and that is why for the last year we, along with almost 50 organisations ranging from Barratt Homes, G15, the National Housing Federation to countless SMEs, have been campaigning for a small site planning policy.”

Gavin Smart, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said while he welcomed some of the measures, there needed to be much more of a focus on social housing.

He said: “Without investment in social house building we’ll continue to see housing waiting lists grow and will continue to spend huge amounts of money subsidising poor quality housing.

“It’s time for a long-term cross cutting strategy, backed by government investment, focussed on delivering more homes in the right places that people can afford. Everyone should have access to a decent and affordable home from which to build their lives.”

This was echoed by Josie Parsons, chief executive at Local Space. She said: ““We are disappointed by the lack of focus on tackling one of the biggest social and economic challenges facing those cities. Namely the shocking increase in homelessness and the desperate need to provide more safe and secure longer-term accommodation to help alleviate this crisis. “

Suzannah Nichol, chief executive of Build UK, said a housing strategy could not be successful without being underpinned by a national plan for infrastructure and suggested relaxing planning rules for critical infrastructure.

“He talks about the infrastructure levy, but it is this vague thing that says that you will be charged more, it will go into the local community, but there is no clear plan,” she said. “You cannot build a new hospital five or six years after you have put the homes up – it is too late.”

And Mark Reynolds, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council and chief executive of Mace, said: “This welcome funding for more planning experts will help to decrease waiting times for planning decisions – a major cause of uncertainty and delay in delivery across the construction sector – and a review of permitted development rights could help to unlock UK-wide growth through the opportunity for more work across the country for the repair, maintenance and improvement sector.

“It’s positive to see the Government are listening and want to solve the housing crisis – and we urge them to establish a taskforce and work with industry to simplify guidance to tackle the underlying issues, and develop a collective plan to address nationally significant infrastructure projects, deliver family homes and solve the challenge around nutrient neutrality, so that new homes and green infrastructure are built at pace, at scale and in the right places to everyone’s benefit.”

>>See also: Gove sets out plans for new urban quarter in Cambridge in regeneration strategy

>>See also: A Fair Deal for Housing

Others criticised Gove’s focus on city centre development alone. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The FMB has consistently highlighted that it is the small, local house builders that are best placed to truly deliver on this ambition.

“They build quality, local homes that reflect their communities’ needs which is why the government’s focus on urban areas needs to be balanced with the need to address housing shortages in our rural communities.”

Victoria Du Croz, head of planning and partner at law firm Forsters, said neither brownfield sites nor office-to-resi conversions have delivered the homes needed to date.

She said: “Re-focusing on these planning mechanisms, by expanding permitted development rights to shop and commercial conversions is unlikely to boost housing numbers to the levels that are needed.

“Today’s announcement failed to recognise the vital importance of a cohesive vision for our towns and cities, that housing is just one element of growing the economy and supporting people. Housing is needed alongside job creation, space for warehousing and a retail and leisure strategy.”