Johnson’s Planning u-turn will cost the Tories: The Times

James Forsyth Times de paywalled

Ditching the promise of more homes is the ultimate political short termism and will accelerate calls for a mansion tax

Before Covid shut down politics, Boris Johnson was determined to push through planning reform and create more homes — and more homeowners. There was to be a particular focus on getting more homes built where property was least affordable. In other words, the southeast. Now that aim has been abandoned.The Tory conference was bookended by reassurances to the party faithful that the government has given up on this idea. The new party chairman Oliver Dowden communicated the message as he opened the conference on Sunday and Johnson rammed it home as he closed it on Wednesday.It is a quite spectacular volte-face. Back in the spring, Johnson was privately lambasting “not in my backyard” Tory backbenchers. Couldn’t they see, he fumed, that their very survival depends on more people owning homes? Surely it’s obvious that the Tory party’s survival is at stake?Now he is doing everything he can to assuage southern Tory voters that their views will not be “desecrated by ugly new homes”. In one of those Johnsonian contradictions, he did so while extolling the joys of home ownership. A joy which, without the new houses, will be strictly rationed for those in the southeast.This is the after-effect of the Chesham & Amersham by-election, in which the Liberal Democrats attacked the planning reforms relentlessly and took the seat from the Tories on a 25 per cent swing. Other Tory MPs looked on in horror, thinking: we’ll be next for the chop.There were easily enough Tory rebels to force ministers to dilute their original proposals for cutting councils out of some planning decisions. In a precursor to this week’s shift, the cabinet reshuffle saw the pro-reform Robert Jenrick sacked. He’s been replaced by Michael Gove, a Surrey MP and therefore very aware of how disgruntled some part of the Tory base had become. (The May elections saw the Tory majority on Surrey county council slashed from 40 to 12.)The Tories will pay little electoral price for this U-turn. Indeed, at the next general election they will probably benefit from it. The “blue wall” will be a bit more secure if the Tories’ opponents can’t use planning to chip away at it. Johnson has no desire to court unpopularity. One cabinet minister jokes that the prime minister “counts out his opinion poll lead every morning like a miser”.In a sign of how Chesham & Amersham spooked the Tories, they are now going out of their way to explain how “levelling up” will benefit the south. If more northerners are in good jobs and paying lots of tax, runs the argument, southern taxpayers won’t have to take up such a large part of burden. And fewer northerners will come south looking for work. A few senior Tories have come perilously close to suggesting that southerners should be in favour of levelling up as it will keep northerners in the north.Planning was one problem too many. There are, after all, a slew of others with no easy fix. Ministers are anxiously poring over long-range weather forecasts trying to work out if La Nina will hit this year, causing a cold snap here that might further exacerbate the gas crisis. Some factories may have to down tools if energy prices make production unprofitable. The effect on the UK, which is largely a services economy, would not be as bad as in countries with more manufacturing. But it would still hit an already weakening recovery.Then, there is inflation. Johnson has been dismissive but other members of the cabinet are increasingly worried. One secretary of state predicts it will be at 6 per cent by the end of the year, three times the Bank of England’s target. In these circumstances one can see why the government has been so inclined to drop a policy that could have harmed them at the polls in 2023 or 2024.But it is still a mistake. The capricious and unpredictable planning system is a significant constraint on economic growth. With money too tight for tax cuts, planning reform would have given a free stimulus to the economy. The government may now blanche at the idea of developing the south, but such development is needed no matter how well “levelling up” goes.Of the best dozen universities in the world, three are in the golden triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge. The government is set to increase research funding and economic output around Oxford and Cambridge could double between now and 2050 to over £200 billion. But this won’t happen unless the necessary infrastructure is in place. House prices in Cambridge are 16 times the average salary — up from four and a half times in 1997. It is hard to believe there won’t have to be significantly more development in rural Cambridgeshire.This is particularly the case given the government’s dismissal of remote working. Johnson is right to think that office time is key to young people’s professional development, but he must accept that they will need to live near their work.In political terms, the Tories’ new approach is a mistake too. It might not hurt them at the next election, or even the one after that. But ultimately the Tories are the party of the property-owning democracy, and live and die by this. Just look at what has happened in London. When Margaret Thatcher left office, home ownership for households headed by a 35 to 44-year-old in the capital was over two-thirds, and the Tories held two-thirds of the seats. Now, less than half of that age group owns a home and the Tories have only just over a quarter of the seats.Owning a home is one of the things that makes people more likely to vote Tory. It is no coincidence that home ownership in the “red wall” seats is above the national average. If the age of the first-time buyer continues to rise that will exacerbate the Tories’ demographic problems. And if house prices in the southeast rise ever higher, pushing home ownership further beyond the reach of more and more people, the popularity of a mansion tax will only grow. If you have no hope of living in a mansion, why shouldn’t you want them taxed till the floorboards squeak?By abandoning any serious attempt to significantly increase the number of homes being built in the southeast the Tories are alienating their future electorate for an easier time with their current voters. It is the ultimate in political short termism.James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator

The Four Tried and Failed Fallacies of Gove’s New Approach to Planning

Telegraph

A source close to Mr Gove said he was committed to hitting the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year in the middle of this decade.

One source said: “He is in listening mode and we have been talking to backbenchers. Our focus is definitely on brownfield sites.”

One new idea is to replace these growth zones, where development would be largely unrestricted, with smaller growth sites to avoid a risk of a “Manhattanization” in some towns and suburbs, where they become heavily developed.

The Telegraph disclosed last month that 61 Tory MPs had signed a letter to Mr Gove and the Prime Minister asking that the Planning Bill is given pre-legislative scrutiny before it is formally introduced in Parliament.

Allowing this “pre-legislative scrutiny” would show that ministers are open to finding a middle ground when the proposals are discussed. This request was made directly to Mr Gove at the meeting with rebel MPs last month.

Some facts

There is no evidence that regeneration in the north will reduce housing demand in the South. Recovery in the north reduces outmigration and increase immigration , but it also boosts household formation and wealth in the north and upskilled and higher wage people in levelled up areas will now have more ability to move south for jobs in the South so long as wages and productivity are higher there, which they will be for decades. Also more housebuilding in north is more houses for retirees from the south to move into. Shifting housing targets between functional economic area is a bad idea from John Prescot which first led to the massive escalation of house prices in the 90s as the pressure was taken off on building in the South. It tried and was proven to fail.

Brownfield First. Well again the policy was tried and failed as it just throttled supply and eas badly and unworkably drafted. About two years brownfield supply for South East. You cant meet Woking’s housing need in Hull. Even if you took all the nations brownfields it meets only around 2 million houses out of a need for around 15 million over 15 years. Even by CPRE’s most optimistic figures it doesn’t work.

No Manhattan’s. If course if you want every city to look like Manhattan you go for Brownfield only – just look at Leeds. This seems to be an idea ive heard every now and again from Tory housing spokes people that if only you built a few homes in villages everywhere you don’t need these new towns and large sites. Problem is it doesn’t work. I’ve done the numbers on this blog on many posts over 15 years. It means the typical rural tory authority doubling the size of every village in 15 years -political suicide. I did the numbers for Stratford District for example. A developer printed the numbers for every village for every resident and the political backlash led to members almost instantly switching from a dispersed strategy (which they had introduced away from a concentrated one because of opposition in Stratford) back to one of concentration and even adding a Garden Community. Always the political pain will be less, and far more sustainable, from Garden Communities strategies. The fact that Gioe even thinks and uses terms such as ‘Manhattenisation’ shows how ill informed and still ill read in his brief he is.

Also in growth zones or sites whatever you call them if planning schemes/permission in principle survived development would not be restricted and the draft bill would not im sure have proposed that. Rather you can restrict heights or any design parameter through parameter plans and design codes. You you want to see an example of failure see the millions of houses built without a proper zoning system driven by good masterplanning on the continent. Of course Give hates anything European (blaming them for everything) – like regional investment, more housebuilding, better design, zero carbon new developments, better cycling provision etc. etc. So I doubt he will listen to evidence or sense.

So don’t panic that the Uber Nimby’s and the CPRE see a tiny chink of light and reveal there real agenda, which is not just to reduce housebuilding but almost eliminate it, even from past permissions. Reality will hot ministers in the face and we will get yet another u turn in a couple of years time.

‘Build Back Beaver’ Boris’s Cranky Speech on ‘Jamming Homes in the South East’ Leads to the Nimby Whats App Gang of Mps demanding permission is withdrawn for 200,000 Greenfield Houses

His conference speech

beavers that have not been seen on some rivers since tudor times

 massacred for their pelts

and now back

and if that isn’t conservatism, my friends I don’t know what is

build back beaver

and though the beavers may sometimes build without local authority permission

you can also see how much room there is

to build the homes that young families need in this country

not on green fields

not just jammed in the south east

but beautiful homes on brownfield sites

in places where homes make sense

This is nit a comedy turn at a joky after dinner speech testing gags for the next Telegraoh Column.

It had an immediate effect

Telegraph

Ministers are under pressure to tell councils to withdraw planning permission for nearly 200,000 homes on greenfield sites after Boris Johnson announced that new homes will be built on previously developed land.

The Prime Minister announced in his party conference speech that “beautiful homes” should in future be built only “on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense”. [no he dudnt see quote above]

Glenigan, the construction industry experts, said that nearly half of the 408,000 undeveloped plots of land which had planning permission in England in August – 187,000 homes – were planned for greenfield land where work is yet to start.

On Thursday night, Tory MP Bob Seely, who led a backbench rebellion against the planning reforms, told The Telegraph that the Government should now ensure that uneconomic developments on greenfield sites should now be pulled.

He said that ministers should order a halt to development on “greenfield, the economics of which do not stack up, but which have been given planning permission”.

Mr Seely cited as one example the Pennyfeathers development for 900 homes in his Isle of Wight constituency, which has been criticised because of the pressure it will put on local roads.

Tories demand action

The demand will be one of several in a letter to the Prime Minister which is being drawn up by Tories concerned by planning reforms in the wake of Mr Johnson’s speech on Wednesday.

The MPs are also likely to demand that Mr Johnson’s “brownfield only” policy is written into the new Planning Bill, which is currently being redrawn by Michael Gove, the new Housing Secretary.

Theresa Villiers, a former Cabinet minister, said: “The PM’s comments on planning in his speech are great, but if they are to have a real impact we need to see new protections for green fields added to planning law.

“And we also need housing targets reduced in the South to stem the flood of high-rise, high-density development, which is creating immense pressure in commuter areas.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warned there were a further 340,000 new homes planned for greenfield sites in green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), which had not been given formal planning permission.

It warned of “unnecessary greenfield development that would take place between Oxford and Cambridge unless the Government radically changes its approach”.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

Paul Miner, head of land use and planning at CPRE, said: “These 187,000 houses with planning permission are the tip of the iceberg.

“There are currently 340,000 houses planned on our green belts and AONBs, never mind greenfield sites.

“We call on the Government to agree to a meaningful brownfield first policy urgently and to make it a central pillar of the forthcoming Planning Bill.

“A brownfield first policy is needed so these unnecessary proposals can be stopped.”

A source close to Mr Gove said he was committed to hitting the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year in the middle of this decade.

One source said: “He is in listening mode and we have been talking to backbenchers. Our focus is definitely on brownfield sites.”

One new idea is to replace these growth zones, where development would be largely unrestricted, with smaller growth sites to avoid a risk of a “Manhattanization” in some towns and suburbs, where they become heavily developed.

The Telegraph disclosed last month that 61 Tory MPs had signed a letter to Mr Gove and the Prime Minister asking that the Planning Bill is given pre-legislative scrutiny before it is formally introduced in Parliament.

Allowing this “pre-legislative scrutiny” would show that ministers are open to finding a middle ground when the proposals are discussed. This request was made directly to Mr Gove at the meeting with rebel MPs last month.

Head in hand over Boris speech though however bad it was Goves shocking ignorence is even worse

Some facts

There is no evidence that regeneration in the north will reduce housing demand in the South. Recovery in the north reduces outmigration and increase immigration , but it also boosts household formation and wealth in the north and upskilled and higher wage people in levelled up areas will now have more ability to move south for jobs in the South so long as wages and productivity are higher there, which they will be for decades. Also more housebuilding in north is more houses for retirees from the south to move into. Shifting housing targets between functional economic area is a bad idea from John Prescott which first led to the massive escalation of house prices in the 90s as the pressure was taken off on building in the South. It tried and was proven to fail.

Brownfield First. Well again the policy was tried and failed as it just throttled supply and Wasbadly and unworkably drafted. About two years brownfield supply for South East. You cant meet Woking’s housing need in Hull. Even if you took all the nations brownfields it meets only around 2 million houses out of a need for around 15 million over 15 years. Even by CPRE’s own most optimistic figures it doesn’t work.

No Manhattan’s. If course if you want every city to look like Manhattan you go for Brownfield only – just look at Leeds. This seems to be an idea ive heard every now and again from Tory housing spokes people that if only you built a few homes in villages everywhere you don’t need these new towns and large sites. Problem is it doesn’t work. Ive done the numbers on this blog on many posts over 15 years. It means the typical rural tory authority doubling the size of every village in 15 years -political suicide. I did the numbers for Stratford District for example. A developer printed the numbers for every village for every resident and the political backlash led to members almost instantly switching from a dispersed strategy (which they had introduced away from a concentrated one because of opposition in Stratford) back to one of concentration and even adding a Garden Community. Always the political pain will be less, and far more sustainable, from Garden Communities strategies. The fact that Gove even thinks and uses terms such as ‘Manhattenisation’ shows how ill informed and still ill read in his brief he is.

So dont panic that the Uber Nimby’s and the CPRE see a tiny chink of light and reveal there real agenda, which is not just to reduce housebuilding but almost eliminate it, even from past permission. Reality will hit ministers in the face and we will get yet another u turn in a couple of years time.