Michael Gove Empowers Local Authorities in Scaffolding Decision-Making Amidst Housing Challenges

On the 20th of December 2023, Housing Secretary Michael Gove made a significant announcement at the Royal Institute of British Architects, unveiling a noteworthy shift in the National Planning Policy Framework. Gove’s declaration empowers local authorities with greater control over housebuilding in the greenbelt, prioritising environmental, heritage, and aesthetic concerns over local-housing-need assessments, which he now considers advisory.

Gove’s move follows the release of the Home Builders Federation’s Housing Pipeline Report, revealing the lowest quarterly planning permission approvals for housing sites since 2006. The announcement signifies a departure from the 2019 Conservative manifesto’s ambitious target of constructing 300,000 homes annually, a goal Gove now views as a mere starting point.

Mark Buddle, head of residential development at Bidwells, criticised Gove’s approach, characterising it as a dilution of housing targets that reflects the government’s reluctance to take concrete action. Buddle expressed scepticism about effective solutions while pointing to the challenges posed by political dynamics and vocal interest groups. He remarked, “Gove’s diluting of housing targets is indicative of the government’s aversion to concrete action.”

The updated framework encourages development on brownfield sites, proposing a reduction in affordable housing provision on these sites by a “proportionate amount.” It outlines a presumption in favour of sustainable development, considering local infrastructure, environmental impact, and climate-change mitigation.

Notably, the plan promotes the use of small sites for self- and custom-build homes, as well as easing restrictions on building extensions with a mansard roof. Andrew Shepherd, managing director at modular housebuilder TopHat, welcomed the focus on sustainable development. He stated, “It’s welcome that as part of his planning and housing speech today Michael Gove has announced a presumption in favour of sustainable development – a policy that mirrors our own calls to ministers as one of the initiatives needed to turbocharge the innovative volumetric modular housing sector.”

Gove also announced plans to publish league tables comparing councils’ responsiveness to planning applications and their approval rates. He intends to consult on potentially banning planning departments from using extension-of-time agreements on householder applications. Alistair Watson, UK head of planning and environment at Taylor Wessing, criticised the government’s approach, stating, “[The] government is less like Father Christmas and more like the Planning Grinch. The government has missed the major opportunity to make a significant difference.”

Gove’s commissioning of an independent review of the London Plan underscores the government’s commitment to addressing housing challenges, with the Housing Secretary reserving the right to intervene if London Mayor Sadiq Khan rejects the recommendations. In response, Khan wrote on social media, “The Conservatives were desperately trying to distract from their catastrophic housing record.” As the housing debate continues, Gove’s initiatives aim to strike a balance between local autonomy and national housing goals, with the efficacy of these measures yet to be fully realised.


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