Last month, amidst the backlash against Robert Jenrick’s decision to call in a proposal for a new coal mine in Cumbria, we wrote about how the Secretary of State for Housing wielded a not-so-secret weapon in the Government’s effort to get houses built.
In effect, he is the final court of appeal for a huge number of planning applications. So even if Conservative MPs continue to stonewall all efforts to deliver a coherent housing strategy, he can brute-force overall numbers up by granting a higher number of appeals.
The latter is no substitute for the former, of course. Unlike a proper planning overhaul, simply granting appeals under the current system doesn’t tackle any of the underlying issues keeping supply inadequate and, crucially, new developments unpopular.
There is thus a political risk to signing off lots of such developments – as shown by the eventual backbench revolt which deposed Nicholas Ridley, the last minister to consciously pursue this appellate approach.
But the political risk of spending another decade not building enough houses is bigger. Which may be why Government sources say that the level of successful planning appeals is not only matching that of Ridley’s 1980s heydey, but actually exceeding it, as ministers take a ‘pro-development’ approach to decisions.
Something for Tory MPs to consider the next time they’re invited to vote on a housing strategy.