Out-of-Date Law on Joining Up in an Age of Joined-Up Planning

South Upshire district is looking at how to work with its neighbors on a new style joint strategic plan; indeed if it doesn’t it faces intervention on its slow plan making.

Its within Upshire county and adjoins a unitary which used to belong to the County.  The area proposed for the JSP would be part of the ceremonial county.

It faces issues – it could undertake a joint plan under section 28 of the PCPA – the problem – this allows unitaries as part of the joint plan but doesn’t allow counties, so the plan couldn’t include waste and minerals policy jointly with the county.

It could declare a joint committee under section 29 of the PCPA, this allows counties to join but not unitaries.

If the plan were to propose a strategic infrastructure tariff any combined authority could not collect it or charge it because of the complex CIL law and regulations on charging and receiving authorities.  There would need to be separate  CILs.  The government has consulted on changing the law on this to allow combined authorities to charge a strategic infrastructure tariff (like in London)..

The government has used Henry VIII powers under the deregulation act to relax where can form a Combined authority, including one preparing a LTP for part of a county, however this combined authority couldn’t mirror this with joint plans and SIT because of the above problems.  These cant be used it here as it would involve adding to the law not taking away from it.

The legal officer has written to MHLG – but as they reply…

Provision had already been made under section 28 to allow unitary authorities and districts to work together so there was no error in drafting, or clouded thinking on the matter. [ Cough, cough really!]
I have discussed the joint working issues with Colleagues looking after SIT who will, I am sure, consider the issues you have raised. There are no proposals to change the primary legislation (Section 29) that I am aware of and this would unlikely to be given parliamentary time in the current circumstances with legislation on Brexit being given priority.

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Greater Cambridgeshire’s Wolly Combined Authority Constitution – a model to avoid at all costs

As areas look at models and governance arrangements for joint spatial plans many will be looking at existing models.

Trust me Greater Cambridgeshire, as experience has showed, is a model to not emulate at all costs.

What precisely are its powers?  look at its constitution as vague as mud as it fers mostly to existing non statutory informal powers whereas the whole point of a combined authority  is to hold budgets and exercise powers.

Its back of the envelope constitution states:

The following functions are reserved to the Combined Authority Board:
Strategies and Plans
The adoption of, and any amendment to or withdrawal of the following plans
and strategies:
(a) Cambridgeshire & Peterborough 2030 and 4 year plan
(b) Local Industrial Strategy
(c) Local Transport Plan
(d) Bus Strategy;
(e) Skills Strategy;
(f) Housing Strategy;
(g) Investment Strategy;
(h) Delivery Plan;
(i) Non-Statutory Strategic Spatial Plan
(j) Market Town Masterplans for Growth
(k) Rural Strategy
(l) Other strategies and plans as agreed.

Which if any of these are statutory? The MHCLG has for example written three mutually contradictory letters on LTPs, so now we have three separate authorities preparing statutory LTPs.

Compare with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority constitution.  Which reads like it has seen a lawyer avoiding an exercise in fudge and where the powers being exercised refer in all cases to statute.

Scrap the amateurish Greater Cambridge combined authority Constitution and start again

Brokenshire threatens to Withdraw £400 million of Growth Deal funding from Squabbling Ant-Bus Greater Cambridge Mayor

LGC

A power struggle between Cambridgeshire & Peterborough CA mayor James Palmer (Con) and local leaders has led to ministers threatening to withhold up to £400m funding.

Mr Palmer has been accused of undertaking a “power grab” of the Cambridge city deal, while local leaders have questioned the viability of his ambitious transport plans for the region.

The row has led to housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire stepping in to urge Mr Palmer and council leaders to make “every possible effort” to ensure momentum around economic growth is not lost.

It is the most high profile intervention by the government into a combined authority mayor’s plans since the first cohort were elected in 2017.

Mr Brokenshire sent a letter, seen by LGC, last Wednesday to the combined authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership, which oversees the implementation of the Cambridge city deal. In it Mr Brokenshire said: “I have seen various statements and correspondence which have been critical of the level of collaborative working between local leaders and I am also aware that a number of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s proposed initiatives have now been paused.

“You will be aware that the next tranche of up to £400m of city deal funding is not guaranteed and that the level of future funding made available will depend on the positive conclusion of the gateway assessment. In addition to assessing progress on delivery, government will also need to consider our confidence in the effective collaboration and delivery capability of local partners for the period beyond 2019.”

So far £100m government funding has been released through the Cambridge city deal, signed in 2014 with the aim of building almost 35,000 homes, creating 45,000 jobs, and investing in infrastructure. An extra £200m could be released from April 2020, and a further £200m from April 2025. The funding would be match-funded locally.

However, that is now in doubt due to a disagreement over whether Mr Palmer’s transport plans should conform with those made by the Greater Cambridge Partnership or vice versa.

The mayor’s interim transport strategy was approved at a meeting of the combined authority on 30 May by six votes to two. The two dissenting voices belonged to Lewis Herbert (Lab), leader of Cambridge City Council and interim chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, and Bridget Smith (Lib Dem), leader of South Cambridgeshire DC.

In a blog post in November last year, Cllr Smith accused Mr Palmer of a “power grab” and of seeking “complete control over all the available big budgets”.

Cllr Herbert echoed these views to LGC and questioned the viability of Mr Palmer’s transport plans.

“The mayor has stalled a number of perfectly good transport projects. He wants to fund a number of projects, including a metro, through land value capture. His plan is very unclear,” he said.

This political “squabbling”, as Cllr Smith described it in May, has been noted by the government.

In separate letters, also seen by LGC, previous communities secretary Sajid Javid wrote on 18 October 2017 that it was “undoubtedly the case that our approach to devolution in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is that the mayoral combined authority is the sole transport authority for the area.”

Then on 13 February, local growth minister Jake Berry appeared to contradict that when he told Mr Palmer the government was “content for you to work collaboratively with local partners to bring forward consensual proposals”.

Mr Palmer told LGC he was “clearly concerned” about Mr Brokenshire’s letter but pointed to the Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership’s “lack of progress during the four years of its existence”.

Mr Palmer said: “Claims that the transport statement passed by the combined authority last month is the key threat to the next tranche of funding being released are ludicrous.

“As mayor one of my key focuses is on securing as much funding as possible for transport infrastructure projects across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“Indeed the combined authority secured a further £74m from government on top of the devolution deal in the budget specifically for investment in transport infrastructure.

“I’m clearly concerned that the [Greater Cambridgeshire Partnership’s] lack of progress during the four years of its existence appears to be a cause of concern for the government, so much so that it may well influence their decision on whether to release the next tranche of funding. I’m focused on ensuring that this money comes to Greater Cambridge.”

Sensible options to be Put to Thanet Members over RAF Manston /Local Plan

Sensible – puts the key decision in the hands of the DCO examination.

Isle of Thanet News

Three options are believed to be due to be put forward to councillors when they take a new vote on Thanet’s draft local plan next month.

The draft plan – which is a 20 year blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure on the isle – was voted down in January by Conservative and ‘rebel’ UKIP councillors  with 35 against and 20 in favour.

The vote, which led to the collapse of the UKIP administration, was prompted by a change of status for Manston from aviation-only to a mixed-use designation to include 2,500 homes. An amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation pending the resolution of the DCO process was not sufficient to persuade the majority of councillors.

There were also issues over housing numbers with a strong campaign to protect sites mounted by the Birchington Action Group Against TDC Local Plan members.

The failure to vote through the plan led to the government stepping in to speed up the process.

Options

Now a new vote is to take place in July and it is understood that councillors will be presented with the option of approving the plan as presented in January or making amendments to the Manston airport site.

The Isle of Thanet News understands that one option will be to defer mixed use proposals for two years following the adoption of the local plan. If a Development Consent Order (DCO) or Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for aviation use is granted within those two years the housing allocations for the site will be scrapped.

Another, similar, option is thought to be to amend the wording of the plan to recognise the lawful use of the site as an airport, with no development allocation, for a two year period or until the decision is made on the DCO if that comes before the end of the two years. This would mean additional housing sites for Westwood, Birchington and Westgate plus smaller sites across the district to be earmarked for development at the end of the local plan period in 2031.

A DCO is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This includes energy, transport, water and waste projects.

Riveroak Strategic Partners, who want to bring aviation back to the Manston site, made a DCO submission in April but this was withdrawn ;ast month. The firm says it aims to resubmit the application.

Intervention

Thanet is in an ‘intervention’ stage from central government following the failure to agree the local plan to go forward to the next stag when councillors took the vote in January.

Then-Housing Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to 15 local authorities in England in March to inform them of decisions on intervention.

Thanet was one of three authorities where the government confirmed it could take over the entire process.

TDC initially said a new plan could take between 8-10 months with the intention to publish a pre-submission draft plan by December 2018  and submission for examination until April 2019.

But council leader Bob Bayford, who was voted in to the council top spot following the resignation of UKIP leader Chris Wells at the end of February, had pledged to “progress and deliver the local plan.”

New vote

Thanet council Cabinet members will meet to discuss the draft plan on July 2. The issue will go to the scrutiny panel on July 11, back to Cabinet on July 19 before a final decision from full council on July 26.

Documents for those meetings have not yet been published.

The draft plan

Thanet’s Draft Local Plan –which runs until 2031 –sets out how much development is needed to support the future population and economy. Allocating land through the plan is designed to give the council greater control over where and what type of developments can take place.

Consultation was carried out last year on revisions to the plan included axing the aviation-use only designation at Manston airport and putting forward new isle sites including Manston Court Road and Haine Road.

Government guidelines currently dictate a build of 17,140 new isle homes by 2031.

This level of housing may need to rise even further following a government plans to standardise the way local authorities work out housing need.

The figure could rise to more than 20,200 homes, raising the requirement from 857 dwellings per year to 1063 dwellings per year.

Some 1,555 homes have already been constructed; another 3,017 have been given planning permission; 2,700 are accounted for through windfall housing –sites that have historically had planning approval and may be put forward again – and 540 are already empty homes.

This leaves 9,328 properties to be accommodated.

Allhallows-on-Sea – Kent’s version of Southend that never took off

 

allhallows_opening

As I look out of the window across the Thames Estuary you see the Hoo penninsula. the only development on its coast before you get to the isle of Grain is an ugly caravan park at Allhallows.

There is a railway line across thepenninula, promoted by local land speculators.  The northern bank of the estuary here was no less empty than Hoo before the railways came so why did Southend take off and Allhallows not.

It very nearly did – according to Wikipedia.

In 1878, Henry Pye with a deputation of other local farmers met the South Eastern Railway Company with a request for a new railway to be built in the area. From this meeting a new company was established, the Hundred of Hoo Railway Company. The SER saw it as part of the development of continental traffic, and the ferry terminal at what was named Port Victoria was built as terminus of the line. The traffic did not materialise and that section of the line and the line beyond Grain closed in 1951.

On 14 May 1932 a branch railway was opened to the Thames estuary beyond the ancient village of Allhallows. It was intended to become a riverside resort of some size, and grandiose plans were formed. The new area was given the name of Allhallows-on-Sea. Little came of the scheme, and today all signs of that branch have disappeared, save for the water tower which supplied locomotives at the terminus – it is now a listed building. There is a holiday village on the site where the resort was intended to be.

the fantastic British Pilot Pub is one of thefew buildings of this era still there, most of teh rest of the small village is park homes and postwar ribbon sprawl.

The problem was the original railway was built along the ridgeline and not along the coast.  When the branch line was built it was at the height of the Great Depression  and missed the Victorian seaside boom.

None the less it is a huge waste of land at a site that could again be linked to the rail network.  It is outside flood risk areas and protected European sites.  Its a wonderful sandy beach like Southend, unlike the muddy and marshy areas elsewhere in the Thames Estuary.

Where else in England could you build a Garden City on Sea?  As North Kent has to scrape around for sites for its share of the one million new homes in the Thames Estuary 2050 plan it could worse than look here, especially as an alternative  original Lodge Hill proposals down the road now it is an SSSI (whilst acknowledging the Homes England proposals are now much more environmentally friendly)

3040858_9b608193

 

The Treasury just isn’t interested in Thames 2050 – Here’s Why and Heres how to fix it

Releasing the Thames Estuary 2050 report on the same day as the Heathrow vote and the Letwin review is no coincidence but deliberate media manipulation to bury it.

Surely Teresa May, known to have tried to bury the Northern Powerhouse simply because she disliked George Osborne, is not well disposed to a project once led by Micheal Hesiltine.  Hesiltine would have seen this as a delivery project with detailed and costed proposals.  I greatly admire Sir John Armitt but this and the Arup report that accompanies it see it primarily as big engineering.  Sorry I think that was a miscalculation.

It was buried because the Treasury wont back it.  Hammond is not disposed to ‘bids’ from private Pike and other ministers having now been forced to raise taxes for the NHS.  Cam-MK-OX got the green light because the technical work showed a ‘transformational’ growth scenario allowing for higher economic growth.  What is more astonishing is the SHMAs for the area do show the uplift this implies – for South Essex for example it implies +16% (to 2036).  Im rather angry it was job number 1 for Arup and was missed.  The various partnerships in the area will now have to make the case.

Raab to break ‘vice like grip’ of large housebuilders

I

The “vice-like grip” of huge companies on Britain’s building industry needs to be broken to increase the supply of affordable homes, the housing minister has said. Dominic Raab pledged action to boost competition in the construction industry because small building firms have been “eviscerated”, to tackle the practice of major developers refusing to built on plots until prices rise and to champion the development of factory-made houses. In an interview with i , he insisted the UK was beginning to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the housing crisis and vowed to tackle the “stigma” often faced by tenants in social housing. House building targets Small businesses have almost been eviscerated in the UK market and consumers are then getting a bad deal because the cost of housing Dominic Raab Theresa May has set a target for 300,000 homes to be built in England by 2025 – last year’s total was 217,000 – after anger over the cost of new homes and rent levels became a major issue in last year’s general election. Mr Raab said extra spending on housing, as well as infrastructure to support new developments, was crucial for increasing the supply of affordable homes, but reform of the building industry was also essential. “When any market is gummed up, what you tend to see is a relatively small number of big businesses, big players, who seem to have control over the market and that can put a glass ceiling on the start-up of small businesses. “We have certainly seen that in the developer sector. Small businesses have almost been eviscerated in the UK market and consumers are then getting a bad deal because the cost of housing [is] too high.” Capitalism ‘for the little guy’ He indicated that restrictions could be introduced to prevent major developers acquiring land with planning permission but not building on it – a tactic out of the reach of small builders whose presence in the market has “effectively withered on the vine”. Mr Raab said the “incredibly exciting” growth of self-build houses – homes partly constructed in factories before they were moved to their sites – opened up the industry to new companies – and reduced disruption to communities from construction projects.

Thames Gateway is now Thames Estuary 2050 – But No need to wait till 2070 for a New Thames Rail Crossing @NatInfraCom

The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission published its vision today, consummate timing from the Ministry three major announcements re planning on the same day so it got no publicity.  Also not being announced on the same day as the Budget, contract Cam-MK-OX it doesn’t have the implicit backing of the Treasury.  Sir John Armitt chair of the National Infrastructure Commission took over as Chair after Micheal Hesiltine was sacked from government roles.

The challenge of course is to avoid the failure of the Thames Gateway project which we have talked about many times over many years on here.  All high aspirations, no spatial plan, no specific infrastructure projects and no delivery mechanisms.  Despite it being described as a ‘growth area’ my analysis of census data shows plan target in the area to have been well below household formation, therefore rather the being a growth area in effect it was a restraint area.

Its a good report – with Arup’s logo (its Chairman was on the commission) discretely on the back cover.  its comprehensive, it even has a sectiom going back to the ice age.  Oh how many local plans have I read so long it feels like they go back to the ice age.

It divides the area up into the familiar South Essex, North Kent and London sub categories.  But describing South Essex as South Essex Foreshore, a daft title as it includes Brentwood and Basildon which have no coastline and Rochford whose foreshore is mostly on the river Crouch not the River Thames. (note:  The Commission seems unaware that Brentwood recently joined with the Thames Gateway South Essex Authorities to prepare a joint spatial plan ).

In terms of vision it promotes North Kent as a medical research corridor.  Though Pfizer are pulling out of Sandwich there seem to be many other takers at Discovery Park so this is a good concept South Essex is less clear.  It talks of a national resiliance centre.  Its former oil depots are becoming logistics centres so perhaps a ‘post oil economy’ focus on renewable, resilience and advanced/added value manufacturing/entrepot should be promoted to avoid reliance on low wage logistics growth (which is explosive around Thurrock).

On housing it promoted a housing target of 1 million new homes by 2050.  Adding up the existing government based OANs with addons for employment growth aspirations exceeds this slightly.   Notably their forecast is entirely demographic and does not include and additions for additional in migration caused by growth aspirations in development plans.  So the 1 million figure should be seen as a minimum.  The commission says:

The standard methodology for calculating objectively assessed housing need provides a figure by each local authority. If this distribution is adhered to, around two thirds of these homes will need to be delivered in east London. The Commission believes that solely focusing on homes in London is unsustainable and that more of these homes should be provided in Kent and Essex. The one million homes figure should be viewed as an Estuary-wide total.

Clearly the London numbers are not deliverable requiring a more than doubling of completions, which the Mayor of London now acknowledges will not happen.  How much of this though should go eastwards?  The Essex part of the area being incredibly constrained.  If this broad figure is to be reached radical options such as redeveloping Thamesmead at higher densities, espanding Canvey Island through land reclamation, building a flood wall east of Gravesend and developing New Setttlements at possible  locations such as Hooe, West Hordon, and RAF Marston.

As the technical report states

If these Plans demonstrate sufficient growth ambition – going above the minimum threshold set out by Government for local housing need; and given statutory status – Government should reward this ambition with substantial infrastructure investment and freedoms and flexibilities.

So heres the deal – take some of London’s growth and get infrastructure dosh.  But how much and will it be sufficient incentive.  Why not such an offer in a 360 degree arc around London?  Also you have to recognise the sheer scale of the London need overwhelms surrounding areas.  So for example if South Essex were to take only 10% of the Thames Gateway London need it would require tripling of the Greenfield (all Green Belt) land take.   This just isn’t on in such a highly urbanized and constrained area.  The overspill needs to be spread further and wider to avoid a bloody political fight.

In terms of public transport proposals

The Commission is supportive of the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing.
However, in order to future-proof the proposed crossing, the Commission believes that the design should, as a minimum, not preclude the future delivery of infrastructure to support rail transport links and/or autonomous vehicles. Highways
England should also work with the relevant local authorities to ensure that the design and location of the crossing and connector roads minimise impact on traffic flows, unlock jobs and homes growth in the surrounding area.

Great.  Exactly what I proposed on here yesterday.

It also proposes something it calls Thames East Line

Delivery of new multi-modal (including rail) crossing east of the Lower Thames Crossing combined with the second Thames Barrier. Potential interchange points could be Basildon and the Medway Towns.
To maximise the benefits arising from a second Thames Barrier (which will provide world-class standard of flood protection) including improved north south connectivity, enhanced linkages with other high productivity corridors around London, agglomeration
opportunities at interchanges and improved access to
England’s high speed railway network.
How: Government should consider a multi-modal crossing as part of its planning for the next Thames Barrier. This includes the financing models, which
could be used to deliver the project by 2050.

Sorry this does not make sense in engineering, planning or transport terms.  It is a reheating of the Thames Hub proposal put forward by Fosters (yes he is on the commission) as part of Boris island.

The first problem is you cant put road or rail on top of a retractable flood barrier, you can in part but then you have to dip down and tunnel in areas where you have locks.  The model for the Thames hub being the St Petersburg Barrier.

This however wont work on the Thames. least of all well up river east of Tilbury.  At St Petersburg it bridges across 10km and is road only.  The flood gates notable to take full size tankers or container ships.  Rail would require a much less shallow gradient.  The various potential locations for a Thames Flood Barrier two are all 1-2 km wide.  It simply doesnt work in section.  If it was a dam like structure it would cause the Thames to silt up (like all large dams do to their rivers.  In any event the Environment Agency correctly models no need for a second barrier before 2070.  If no added value rests of bringing it forward there is no BCR case for this.

If you are going to build a rail link Essex to Kent you do it as part of the Lower Thames Crossing.  If you are going to build a second flood barrier you do it as a restractable structure like the existing and make it further downstream such as at Swanscome, so as to avoid block navigation to Tilbury and London International Ports and to avoid European protected sites.  If you are going to do tidal power do it as part of tidal lagoons that don’t block navigation, such as part of land reclamation/flood walls work around Canvey Island or the Isle of Sheppy, where it could also create intertidal salt marsh habitat countering rising sea levels.

 

 

 

 

New Tory Thinktank advocates Land Value Capture and Restricting Buy to Let

Guardian

Private landlords have put home ownership beyond the reach of at least 2 million families, research shows, while Britain has built only half as many new homes as France over the same period.

The radical report from the new Conservative  hinktank Onwardr ecommends ending or severely curtailing tax breaks for buy-to-let and private landlords, a stronger role for local councils and major reform of the planning system to allow communities rather than developers to lead the process.

The report, which was written by Neil O’Brien, a former aide to George Osborne who also worked for Theresa May at No 10, calls for government intervention in the housing market, including giving London councils the power to limit foreign ownership.

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“We need to change the balance between the rented sector and home ownership,” O’Brien said. “We should protect existing landlords but discourage more people from investing in rental property, because the buy-to-let boom has bid up prices and reduced homeownership among younger people.”

Previous governments have already acted to curb tax relief on mortgage repayments and maintenance for landlords, but the thinktank says it is still a privileged form of investment that reduces the number of homes available for owner-occupiers while reducing the amount of capital available for more productive investment.

“The UK is one of the cheapest countries for investors involved in residential rental investments,” the report finds.

Emphasising the link between shortage of supply and rising home prices, the report offers radical ideas for increasing the number of new homes.

It argues that planning permission for a hectare of agricultural land can add as much as £2.5m to its value. If the community could benefit from some of the increase, the report argues, it could be used to pay for the kind of services and infrastructure that new developments sometimes lack.

Instead of piecemeal development, it recommends that councils should have the power to put together land and create new settlements with services. It looks across Europe, where most local authorities have strong powers to initiate and shape development and link it to public transport.

It proposes better support to help councils plan new developments drawing on expertise from across the sector, as well as abroad. It also recommends much higher density urban occupation, where the UK lags behind most other comparable countries.

The report wants councils to be able to borrow to buy development land that hey could sell on with planning permission, allowing the local community to benefit from the increased value.

Will Tanner, a former Downing Street policy adviser who is now director of Onward, said it was possible to tackle the housing crisis without concreting over the green belt.

“If the government wants to regain the support of young people … it must be unflinching in its pursuit of greater home ownership. That means hard choices like ending tax breaks for new landlords and giving councils much stronger powers.”

Telegraph Interviews Oliver Letwin on Letwin Review Stage 1

Telegraph

It is two years since Sir Oliver Letwin formally left the government, and yet in recent months he has found himself relied on by Theresa May almost as much as if he had retained his role in the Cabinet Office.

The former Conservative policy chief has been credited with averting at least two major Tory rebellions over Brexit by developing compromise amendments to the Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

In November he was asked by Philip Hammond to tackle another thorny issue for the Prime Minister, who has pledged to increase the number of new homes to 300,000 per year: the vast gap between the number of properties given planning permission, and those that have actually been built.

Sir Oliver’s inquiry began amid claims developers were deliberately “banking” land. The only “land banking” that does exist, he has concluded, is as a result of the “absorption rate”, which sees builders sell new properties over a longer period of time because putting a large number of similar homes on to the market at the same time was depressing prices.

Sir Oliver’s analysis found that firms were taking an average of 15.5 years to complete large developments, with work progressing at a rate of 6.5 per cent of the development per year. At the extreme end of the scale the buildout rate of a development was almost 44 years. “It is an extraordinary fact,” he says. The larger the site, Sir Oliver’s team found, the smaller the percentage of the development that would be built each year.

The problem, he has concluded, is that homes on the largest sites were too alike, both in terms of the buildings themselves and their surroundings, and the “tenure” of the properties – whether, for example, they were ultimately aimed at private purchasers or renters, or those who would be renting through local authorities or housing associations.

“When you go to these estates they will sometimes tell you, ‘we have three or four different flags’, as they put it, or ‘outlets’, or even ‘brands’,” he says.

“We have wandered up and down these sites and looked for the differences. I assure you, it’s very difficult to tell which is which.”

He adds: “There are people who want retirement living, people who want student accommodation, people who want homes that look and feel completely different from the sorts of things builders are building on these sites. They will find them in the second hand market very possibly, but they won’t find them on these sites, because these sites are being built like these builders build them – that’s what’s on offer. Any car you want as long as it’s black.”

The exact “policy levers” that Sir Oliver will recommend to tackle the problem will be the subject of the next six months of his review, on which he will report ahead of the November budget. But he now knows what he is aiming to achieve.

“The outcome we need is an outcome which somehow varies in lots of different modes and ways what’s on offer. Just as important that they should be varied in soft ways to do with architecture, urban design, ecology and style as in the hard ways of tenure and size.

“If you can have different markets that you’re addressing… you will end up with more homes.”

Sir Oliver has been careful to keep his focus on the time period between planning consent being gained and a site being completed, in line with his formal brief. But he will also make recommendations for tackling problems that he has discovered are delaying – by an average of more than four years – the point at which full consent is provided.

“We discovered en route that the provision of major infrastructure, particularly major transport infrastructure… has a huge effect,” he said.

“Barking Riverside [in east London] for years and years didn’t happen to speak of because everyone was discussing how not to provide an extension of the Docklands Light Railway. They eventually decided it wasn’t going to be provided and they would instead extend the London Overground. Then Barking could proceed.

“It would be much better if our country were one in which once someone’s decided that there’s a large area of post-industrial land which it would be really useful to build, somebody got their act together and got the infrastructure in place.”

He added: “There are lots of government schemes and money and so on available… but I have noted that co-ordination across the various layers of government – departments, agencies, Highways England and National Grid and all these others – is not good enough to create the energy to get rapid decisions made.”

Another problem is a shortage of bricklayers – which will only get worse if the Government’s efforts lead to a rapid expansion in the number of homes being built, he warns.

He calls for a five-year “flash” programme of on-the-job training to increase the number of bricklayers by around 15,000 – adding almost a quarter to the current workforce.

Sir Oliver understands the scale of the task on his hands. Housing, as Mrs May has realised, could make or break the Conservatives at the next election.

“I think there’s absolutely no doubt that any political party that doesn’t take really, really seriously the need to provide sufficient homes for our population… is going to suffer.”