Sajid Javid is set to defy grassroots Conservatives and some of his own MPs with a fresh bid to boost housing construction that could anger the party’s shire heartlands.
After numerous delays the government is set to present its plan to address Britain’s housing shortage early next week. The housing white paper, originally due before Christmas, was expected last month but its publication was delayed again after reports of tensions between Downing Street and Mr Javid, the communities secretary.
Mr Javid wants to accelerate homebuilding but Theresa May, prime minister, is said to be worried that backbench Conservative MPs will threaten to rebel over the issue.A row has been going on at Westminster for months over a proposal to force councils in the south-east to increase the amount of land they allocate for new construction. Conservative-dominated councils in the shires have in the past proved resistant to increasing the number of homes in their local plans.
Ministers have considered “punishing” such councils by excluding them from funding sources such as the New Homes Bonus or the recently announced Housing Infrastructure Fund. Mr Javid said last year that he would “be very tough” on English councils that fail to allocate enough land for housing.
This could also prove contentious if, as planning experts suspect, it includes the watering down of “right to light” rules, which restrict new buildings from casting shadows over existing homes.
Ministers are also looking at encouraging developers to construct more homes on high streets, in an effort to revitalise failing shopping areas with an influx of new occupants. They will further seek to encourage a greater variety of players in the housebuilding sector to increase competition, particularly to attract more smaller builders.
The number of small housebuilders has fallen sharply in the past decade, with industry groups blaming a lack of access to business finance and overly complex planning rules.
The white paper is expected to emphasise the importance of building on brownfield sites but could also see the government authorising some building on the greenbelt if the land lost is replaced with other safeguarded sites .
Ministers are likely to set out plans for a swath of new prefabricated housing, using modular, or off-site, construction in a bid to speed up housebuilding volumes.
The Conservatives have promised to build 1m new homes by 2020, but construction rates are running at below the level needed to meet that target.