K E Y P O I N T S
Theresa May has told housing developers to ‘step up and do their bit’ to ensure more homes are built as she outlined changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.
The prime minister said property companies now risk losing bids for planning permission if they have a record of failing to build houses on land they already own.
She warned local councils they will lose their planning powers if they miss house building targets.
Housing Secretary Sajid Javid has promised the changes will stop developers using the legal loophole of ‘viability assessments’ to ‘wriggle out’ of building the affordable homes they pledged to build when they were first granted planning permission.
Javid said central Government could take the decision of where homes are built out of the hands of local councils if they fail to find sites.
But May tried to reassure rural Tory backbenchers by pledging Green Belt land can only be built on in ‘exceptional’ circumstances and if councils have ‘fully explored every other reasonable option’.
The prime minister said the government was committing £44bn to supporting the housing market.
The government has a target of 300,000 new homes a year.
Labour said May should be ‘embarrassed’ by the Conservative record on housing.
And Lord Porter, the Tory head of the Local Government Association, has ripped into the plans. ‘Why not let councils build so many houses they don’t have to ration them just for the poorest in our society,’ he tweeted.
HuffPost UK has revealed Javid failed to spent a total of £292m allocated for affordable homes over the course of two years.
Housing Minister Heather Wheeler has promised to resign if the rough sleeping crisis gets worse.
S N A P V E R D I C T
From HuffPost UK Deputy Political Editor Owen Bennett:
It is a speech Theresa May has given many times before, and will probably give many times again. There’s a housing crisis. More homes need to be built. They need to be affordable. If words could be turned into bricks, there would be no housing crisis in the UK. Alas for May, actions are needed.
As with Philip Hammond’s Budget in November, the focus of the Government’s reforms is on changing the planning process to make it easier for housing developers to build. She urged house builders to “step up and do their bit”, but there was little sign of where the pressure would come from if they did not. There was a stern defence of the Green Belt, with May pointing out – correctly – that it is not just about protecting fields and woodland, but stopping towns and cities merging into each other.
But when you boil down today’s speech, the announcements in the Budget and May’s promises at Conservative Party Conference, will any extra homes be built as a direct result of the measures announced? It is unlikely. Tory backbenchers – tuned in to how Labour’s plans to borrow to invest have caught the imagination of many young people – are quietly suggesting the Government should take advantage of historic low interest rates to fund a house building boom. Councils should be given greater freedom to borrow to build the social housing so desperately needed.
The Government’s position on renting follows the same logic as home building: the system needs tweaking, not a radical overhaul. May was keen to reassure renters that they are “not any less of a person for doing so” – a point so obvious that it may seem strange to even make it.
Speaking after May this morning was Housing Secretary Sajid Javid. Wheresa May and Hammond are talking the talk on solving the housing crisis, the former banker, who comes from humble origins, seems determined to walk the walk.
He tried to bounce the Chancellor into borrowing billions to invest in building before the Budget, but was knocked back. Going into today’s speech, it was his revelation that central Government could take the decision of where homes are built out of the hands of local councils if they fail to find sites that was the most drastic.
L O C A L C O U N C I L R E A C T I O N
Lord Porter, the Tory councillor who chairs the Local Government Association, has laid the blame for a lack of homes squarely at the feet of the developers.
“Councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed,” he said in a statement.
“The last time the country delivered 300,000 homes which this country needs each year, in the 1970s, councils were responsible for more than 40 per cent of them and it’s essential that we get back to that. In order for that to happen, councils have to be able to borrow to build homes again.”
S T R O N G M E S S A G E H E R E
Theresa May delivered her speech on housing in front of a brick background with a brick lectern. Which while on message - also made it look like she was standing in a chimney. Naturally, people made fun of it.