The Government has revised plans for its controversial “mutant” planning algorithm, which will now prioritise building in urban areas most in need of development.
Hot off the press – Owl
By Amy Jones, Political Correspondent 16 December 2020 • 6:00am www.telegraph.co.uk
The original proposals were heavily criticised by dozens of Conservative backbenchers, including the former prime minister Theresa May, amid fears that it would lead to a surge of house building in their greenbelt constituencies.
An updated formula will be weighted to focus on developing family homes in 20 of England’s largest cities and making the most of vacant buildings and underused land.
The decision follows a consultation launched in the summer that sought views from planners, councils and the wider public.
It is understood that the views of MPs were sought by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, after many aired their concerns in the Commons. An updated formula will now be rolled out to local councils to enable the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
However, the Government could still face opposition on its own benches, as Tory MPs expressed concern that the White Paper would still have “serious implications” for local democracy.
Mr Jenrick said: “This Government wants to build more homes as a matter of social justice, for inter-generational fairness and to create jobs for working people. We are reforming our planning system to ensure it is simpler and more certain without compromising standards of design, quality and environmental protection.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and magnified patterns that already existed, creating a generational opportunity for the repurposing of offices and retail as housing and for urban renewal.
“We want this to be an opportunity for a new trajectory for our major cities – one which helps to forge a new country beyond Covid – which is more beautiful, healthier, more prosperous, more neighbourly and where more people have the security and dignity of a home of their own.”
He also confirmed that a new Urban Centre Recovery Task Force has been set up to help promote the “development and regeneration of our great town and city centres”, with a focus on revitalising the high street.
The Task Force includes Peter Freeman, who is responsible for the redevelopment of King’s Cross and new Chair of Homes England.
The Government also intends to revise the so-called “80/20 rule” which guides how much funding is available to local areas to help build homes to ensure funding is not just concentrated in London and the South East.
It comes after analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, revealed that the previous proposed system would lead to sharp increases in house building in areas with high Conservative support.
In Chichester, West Sussex, the annual target would have risen from 425 to 1,120; in Reigate, Surrey it would have gone up from 460 to 1,091; and in Tonbridge in Kent it would have increased from 425 to 1,440.
Several Tory MPs argued that the algorithm would have “concreted over” the south rather than “level up” the north, while complaining that it favours building in rural areas rather than cities and towns.
Bob Seely, the Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, who led backbench calls to amend the planning proposals, hailed the change as “good news”.
He said: “I am sure MPs will want to look at the re-jigged plans in detail, but this is an initial victory for those who care about their communities.
“It’s very good news that more homes are planned for northern cities, many of which have suffered population declines in the past 50 years, especially as locations such as my constituency of the Isle of Wight have increased our populations significantly and at, frankly, an unsustainable rate.
“I hope this is the beginning of a renaissance in building back better and supporting our vital levelling up agenda.”