Tory planning hiatus allows Ashford and Milton Keynes to block major housing schemes
Local councils in government-designated growth areas are abandoning plans to build thousands of homes as the UK’s planning crisis intensifies.
Milton Keynes and Ashford councils - which were together planning to build 100,000 homes by 2031 - have both this week made it clear they want to review growth plans following the government’s cancellation of regional spatial strategies (RSSs).
The news came as it emerged that the Treasury had blocked attempts by housing minister Grant Shapps to ease the nationwide planning impasse currently affecting councils.
The new Conservative leader of Ashford council, Paul Bartlett, said he is to review growth plans in the town to reduce the planned 31,000 new homes by up to 25%. In addition, he has acted to scratch plans for 1,200 homes on two sites, including a 600-home Bovis Homes scheme, from the local plan immediately.
The planning situation is getting more and more concerning, with more and more councils pulling the plug on housebuilding plans. I believe it’s really starting to worry Shapps and hence his focus has been getting an incentive package cleared with Treasury. But he doesn’t seem to have been able to yet.
Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser at the House Builders’ Association
This is despite the fact Ashford has received £68m in growth area funding in the last eight years.
Bartlett said: “We’re looking at a reduction in the region of 20-25% as a starting point, building what homes are planned less densely, and over a slightly longer period.”
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott designated four growth areas in his 2003 Communities Plan: Ashford, the Thames Gateway, Milton Keynes and South Midlands, and the M11 corridor. This has formed the basis of the government’s housebuilding plans ever since.
Meanwhile, a planning decision on Crest Nicholson’s 1,300-home Oak Grove exemplar scheme in Milton Keynes has been deferred while the council reassesses plans in the light of the cancellation of the RSSs, which dictated local housing targets. The council has also registered its opposition to the 5,300-home Salden Chase scheme, previously part of the area’s 70,000-home target.
In addition, the leader of Eastleigh council, part of a “growth point” around Southampton, cancelled plans for 6,000 homes last week.
Nationwide, plans for at least 85,000 homes have been dropped since the election.
Shapps had intended to write to councils last week, outlining details of the planned incentive package to reward councils that build more homes, but did not get Treasury sign-off in advance of the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in October.
A source close to the process said: “Grant is aware of the aspiration from housebuilders that there should be some more formal guidance, but the main announcement will be at CSR.”
A CLG spokesman urged councils to take action “now” to benefit from the introduction of incentives. He said: “We are committed to introducing these incentives within the next spending review period and will consult later this year.”
Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser at the House Builders’ Assocation, said: “The planning situation is getting more and more concerning, with more and more councils pulling the plug on housebuilding plans. I believe it’s really starting to worry Shapps and hence his focus has been getting an incentive package cleared with Treasury. But he doesn’t seem to have been able to.”
Other recent council action
North Somerset Plans for 10,800 homes dropped
Swindon Core strategy should continue but will need to be revisited
Tunbridge Wells Core strategy adopted but housing targets put immediately under review
Stevenage Work on 9,600-home proposed urban extension should cease until more clarity
Source: House Builders Association