Up to five new garden towns are to be approved for the corridor between Oxford and Cambridge under government plans to launch a “housing revolution” this week.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Sajid Javid, the housing secretary, said he would give the go-ahead to at least two new towns in the next few weeks and could push for up to three more. The decision comes after ministers agreed to fund a high-speed rail line and an “expressway” for cars between the two leading university towns.
“Along that corridor there’s an opportunity to build at least four or five garden towns and villages with thousands of homes,” Javid said. The first step will be to establish “new town development corporations” for the chosen sites, which will help developers and town planners to “cut through a lot of the bureaucracy”, he said.
Referring to the creation of Milton Keynes in 1967 and the transformation of London’s Docklands in the 1980s, Javid said: “We haven’t been that ambitious for a long time.”He said: “We have a housing crisis in this country. Average house prices in England are eight times average earnings. In London, where we have the most acute shortage, it is 15 times average earnings. That’s not just the worst we have had in England , it’s the worst of any major developed economy.”
Last year 217,000 homes were built, more than double the total in 2010, but well under the 300,000 a year the government is aiming for by 2025.
This week ministers will change the planning rules to try to kick-start house-building “where it is needed” and turn the heat up on “Nimby councils” who have refused to build what is needed.
Tomorrow Javid will unveil a new version of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), to get councils to give more land for development. “You’ve got to release it where people are demanding more homes,” he said.
The NPPF will contain new national rules determining how many homes councils should be building each year — taking account of local house prices and wages and the number of key workers in the area. Javid is clear that will force many councils to set higher targets.
“It will no longer allow Nimby councils that don’t really want to build the homes that their local community needs to fudge the numbers,” Javid said. “For the first time it will explicitly take into account the market prices. If you are in an area where the unaffordability ratio is much higher you will have to build even more. It will make clear to councils that this number is a minimum, not a maximum.”
Javid will also launch a crackdown on councils who do not meet targets. He said: “The other thing we’ll introduce is the delivery test. If they say we’re going to plan for 300 a year at the moment there is nothing in the system that checks to see they are actually delivering the 300 and that is going to change.”
Councils who fail to step up will be stripped of their right to decide what gets built in their areas, with decisions made by independent planning inspectors instead. “Developers can only apply for planning permission in the areas the council has identified,” he said. “If the protection of that plan is switched off, a developer can apply for planning permission anywhere in your area.
“This is quite a big sanction for every local authority to not just come up with the right number, but once that number is in place, we are going to be breathing down your neck to make sure you are actually delivering on those numbers.”
Javid says that does not mean building on the green belt, “but it does mean that outside of naturally protected land like woodland and green belt they can pretty much roam everywhere outside that”.
The housing secretary has shown he is prepared to intervene after he threatened 15 councils who had failed to draw up any local plan for development.
“The last time York had a plan was 1954,” he said. “There was the chancellor’s district council, Runnymede. They responded positively. It doesn’t matter who you are or who your MP is, if you haven’t got a plan you will be hearing from me. If a council keeps ignoring its responsibility we can take that planning responsibility away from them and give it to someone else.”
The new planning framework will also seek to make local plans more responsive to their populations’ needs. Javid said: “Our nurses, police officers and fire officers want to live as close as possible to where they serve the British public. We want to make it easier it build and take their needs into account.”
In cities he is keen to see more building upwards. New rules will make it easier for homeowners to add two storeys to their houses — and will clear the way for a large number of mansion blocks to be built.
“The density of London is less than half that of Paris. We don’t want London to end up like Hong Kong,” Javid said, but he wants more “mansion blocks, the kind you might see in Kensington and Chelsea”. He said: “It will be quite surprising how easy we want to make it for people who want to build upwards.”
Further proposals to force developers to build more quickly will be revealed next week when the former cabinet minister Oliver Letwin publishes the interim findings of his report into the problem of land banking by developers.
“We need planning permission to turn into homes,” Javid said. “I don’t think Oliver is going to hold back.”
Javid is aware that failure to deliver could cost the Tories the next election. “We need a housing revolution. We have to show the British public that we are doing everything we reasonably can because if we don’t they will turn to the hard-left ideas of [Jeremy] Corbyn. If that means taking on councils, developers and others that’s what we’re going to do.”
Where? Bassingbourne and Calvert are the top cotenders – followed by Marston Vale, Grove and Sandy-Biggleswade-Henlow. As we have long argued on this site and in reports to the NIC.