Councils must bring plans for more homes of lose planning powers, Michael Gove warns

Councils could be stripped of their planning powers if they block new homes, Michael Gove has said under a house-building shake up which he claimed will not require changes to the green belt.

In a speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London yesterday, the Housing Secretary said that the Government will name and shame underperforming councils, and in extreme cases, punish them by removing their powers to approve and block developments.

Mr Gove singled out seven councils including Amber Valley in Derbyshire and Ashfield in Nottinghamshire which had failed to submit a local plan for housing in almost two decades.

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While he gave these councils three months to come up with a timetable for a plan, he said that developers looking to build in Chorley in Lancashire and Fareham near Portsmouth could bypass the local council and apply directly to the Government.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove making a speech in central London setting out how he plans to speed up the planning system.Housing Secretary Michael Gove making a speech in central London setting out how he plans to speed up the planning system.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove making a speech in central London setting out how he plans to speed up the planning system.

However, Mr Gove insisted that local authorities will still be able to reject building if it would significantly alter the character of an area or have an impact on the green belt.

Yorkshire has around 260,000 hectares of green belt land, with significant amounts around the city of York in addition to the region’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its National Parks.

Mr Gove singled out Cambridge as an area for redevelopment, pushing for more than 150,000 new homes around the city.

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However, the National Housing Federation said that changes will result in fewer homes due to a relaxation in local housing targets.

Kate Henderson, the group’s chief executive, said that the plans “risk further undermining the country’s ability to build the homes we desperately need”.

“We’re concerned measures to protect the greenbelt at any cost will prevent otherwise sustainable developments, close to existing communities, from being built.”

Victoria Vyvyan, president of the Country Land and Business Association, which represents rural business owners and farmers, said: “Unless some villages can build a small number of homes, young people will be driven out of the countryside and more of our schools, businesses and community spaces risk closing for good.”

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Last year Rishi Sunak dropped compulsory housing targets in order to stop a rebellion of backbench Tory MPs, making the target of 300,000 in England an advisory one.

Mr Gove yesterday rejected suggestions that the protections for green belt land were capitulating to his colleagues on the Conservative benches.

“There are perfectly reasonable reasons to resist development if it is unattractive, if it’s unaccompanied by infrastructure, if it dramatically changes the character of an area, if it harms the environment.

“It’s only right that local people can have the chance through the planning system to safeguard the environment and protect the character of the places in which they live.”

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Clive Betts, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee, said: “We have a national shortage of housing in England but the Secretary of State’s speech today didn’t provide clarity on how we are to achieve the national housing target of building 300,000 net new homes per year by the mid-2020s.

“For all the talk of getting tough with local authorities, without mandatory local housing targets, it’s not clear how many houses will need to be built in local areas to deliver the national target.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow housing secretary, said: “The Conservative government has sent housebuilding into crisis, with rock-bottom rates of planning permission decisions, spiking interest rates and house building set to plummet.

"The devastating impact of this government’s reckless decision to abolish local housing targets will have real consequences for housebuilding rates across England, threatening to lock a generation out of getting a secure home of their own.”