Ministers are planning to seize chunks of the greenbelt to build housing developments and pave the way for a new hub airport, the Mail has learned.
The Treasury is prepared to ‘have a fight’ with green campaigners by pushing through rules which would let ministers redesignate areas of greenbelt as available for development.
Chancellor George Osborne plans to let ministers rather than local councils decide where to build hundreds of thousands of houses by reclassifying them as projects of national importance.
The plans are due to form a centrepiece of the Government’s new Bill to boost economic growth next month.
They will enrage groups such as the National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England.
But Treasury sources say they are determined to press ahead because ‘having a fight with the critics will show the public that we are serious about taking difficult decisions to boost growth’.
In the first move towards this ministers will today back a report on the private rental sector by venture capitalist Sir Adrian Montague.
He says councils should waive the requirement for developers to devote 40 per cent of their projects to affordable housing when they are building homes specifically for rent.
Those demands are widely thought to be stalling projects that are ready to go because they have shrunk developers’ profit margins.
The report also recommends that the Government makes public land available to build rental accommodation and underwrites some of the risk of building developments.
The proposals were described by Housing Minister Grant Shapps as a ‘blueprint’ for boosting the housing market and the economy since it will give renters more choice.
At present the limits of protected greenbelt land are set by local authorities but government sources say plans are afoot to carve areas out of the land to build houses while keeping its overall size the same.
One said: ‘You would take an area from one place and hand a bit back from somewhere else. At the moment you can do it in certain circumstances. We want to make it easier.’
Plans which affect the greenbelt will be controversial because the Tories pledged to protect it in their last election manifesto.
In addition ministers are examining plans to designate housing developments as infrastructure projects, so ministers, rather than town halls, would give final approval.
That would put them on the same footing as power stations, roads and airports, which are all regarded as developments where national need overrules local objections.
Senior Tories have also revealed that the party will also go into the next election pledging a huge expansion at either Gatwick, Stansted or Luton airports, making one of them a multiple-runway hub airport.
The Chancellor and David Cameron have ruled out a third runway at Heathrow as politically impossible because of the effect on voters in West London.
They regard Boris Johnson’s plans for a hub airport in the Thames estuary as impractical since the proposed airport will clash with air routes into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
Now think about this – the article is in none technical terms but it would seem the idea is to place housing projects above a certain size in the 2008 planning act regime.
What that would mean is that the housing, and re-designation of Green Belt, would be carried through ‘National Policy Statements’ which would require SEA etc.
>So much for no national or regional planning.
But how would housing projects get in – take for example – and there are many – South of Oxford?
Would the SoS now have to do strategic housing assessments, strategic green belt reviews etc? Yes of course.
The National Policy Statements route would take years – look at the rail and roads statement still not produced. Some such as Ports have only got through for being non spatial. This would not be possible with housing. Also Parliament would have to under take the function now undertaken by trained inspectors, it would have the opportunity to get completely bogged down.
There is a problem, no ‘fast track’ procedure for large housing projects that integrate policy and DT issues, but this is not a practical solution.