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John Halsall is the leader of Wokingham Borough Council.

The Cummings affair, Robert Jenrick, Coronavirus, Scotland, and school results have hugely dented us Tories. We will do badly in May unless the Government quickly learns from its mistakes.

Its contempt for local government is profound. Meaningless virtue signalling, such as “expecting new development to be beautiful” and “giving communities and neighbourhoods an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area”, hides the reality that the MHCLG is proposing to give pretty much all control to developers to carpet-bag the nation.

The shambles of the top-down A Level algorithm stemmed from the fact that, despite the beauty of the formula, the consequent result was wrong. The new standard method for housing numbers and changes to the planning system suffer from the same flaw.

Its hypothesis is to over-provide on the housing target of 300,000 per annum by giving a mandatory requirement on Local Authorities of 337,000, because “not all homes that are planned are built” and “the new standard method is designed to provide enough land to account for the drop-off rate between permissions and completions”.

By using statistical growth, it puts homes where there is development, not where they are needed as the manifesto promised. This penalises those local authorities which have played by the rules, have had local plans and plan-led development. Those who have had no plan and have had little development in the main have been allocated little new requirement.

The adjustment for affordability will never do what it intends. It is schoolroom economics, naïve to the point of stupidity. Why would homes be offered at a lesser margin when the build rate can be reduced, and homes can be eked out to match demand at higher prices? This factor takes no account of local circumstances, for example where homeowners’ earnings take place in another area – common in commuting.

The manifesto promised levelling up and investment in the North, but the algorithm puts most homes in the South East:

“Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has set out an agenda for levelling up every part of the UK – not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made. In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’ and that all growth must inevitably start in London. Because we as Conservatives believe you can and must trust people and communities to make the decisions that are right for them.”

MHCLG has been sneaky and exercised a sleight of hand. Two planning consultations were launched at the same time in early August knowing that there would be holidays, A levels, GCSEs and quarantines. The first one – the smoke screen, “Planning for the Future” (ending on 29th October) – contains aspirations unconnected to the proposals within it, which are generating some debate and notoriety. It is a green paper looking forward to primary and secondary legislation some time during this parliament.

The “Changes to the current planning system” running alongside it has an end date is October 1. This has the meat. No debate! No appeal! It only needs ministerial approval, implementable by a simple decision on his behalf. This paper changes the standard method, allows for fifty homes to be built without affordable housing, extends the permission in principle consent regime and has first time homes discounts. It does all of these within the existing planning system.

So, what are the consequences? Most local authorities have skyrocketed increases in housing requirements immediately (though there is limited provision for delay if local plans are in second-stage consultation). On October 2, any developer or landowner can present an application. On refusal, in most cases an appeal can be won, as there will not be a five-year land supply. The developer does not need to build homes, but can just accumulate permissions; the local authority will be sanctioned for not having fulfilled the quota.

When will Government understand that “local authorities do not build homes; developers do”? There are a million homes in England for which planning permission has been granted but not built. This, at 300,000 per annum, is over three years requirement. This, along with the 187,000 per annum already in adopted local plans, would give more than eight years supply at 300,000 per annum. MHCLG needs to concentrate on what powers it will give local authorities to enforce developers to fulfil their responsibilities.

So please, before this becomes yet another algorithm shambles, rip up this white pape,r and reform the planning system in accordance with the manifesto:

  • Homes built where they are needed not determined by a one size fits all formula
  • Development to be led by plans set by local authorities with their residents
  • Developers forced to build the houses they have planning permission for
  • Removal of developers’ ability to avoid obligation through viability
  • Develop contributions to build all infrastructure needed at an early stage of development
  • Locally set percentage of affordable homes
  • Changes to the planning system to require primary legislation
  • Scrap the five-year land supply

There is no easy short-term fix; once countryside or communities are lost, they are lost forever.

50 comments for: John Halsall: The Government must urgently think again about its new housing plan

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