Gove – If you have beaten past targets you can build less

How will this work – as most areas beating past targets still have pre standard method local plans with low targets, are are growth areas, so where will this leave? Of course already if you build more than your standard method you need less over the remaining 10-15 years of a local plan, and it is unclear if the minister was just stating that fact or extending the principal to the 5YHLS.


Rural areas which have exceeded housing targets in the past will not have to build as many homes in future, Michael Gove has pledged in a bid to see off a potential Tory rebellion.

The Levelling-Up Secretary told MPs that he wants to ensure that local authorities which have “out-performed expectations” in recent years do not have to stick to rigid targets to build many more.

And he denied that his department was seeking a “power-grab” where national planning policies should override locally-agreed plans.

He said: “Quite rightly it should be the case that if a local community has invested time and care in making sure it has a robust local plan, that should prevail.”

Mr Gove’s promise came after Tory MP Paul Holmes said the Government’s target to build 300,000 homes makes the “blood drain” from many faces in local communities.

Mr Gove has promised to rewrite local planning rules following Tory grassroots anger at a target to build 300,000 new homes a year.

Appearing before the Levelling-Up select committee, he said it was a “manifesto ambition”.

He added: “There’s been a lively debate about how those numbers are generated, and how we make judgments about household formation and population growth overall.

“My own view is that whatever figures you arrive at nationally, and how it’s broken down authority by authority, a greater proportion of housing need should be met in urban areas on brownfield sites. 

“Many of our cities are significantly less dense than their counterparts elsewhere and that is bad for everything from transport to economic growth.

“Second, I do believe that we need to have in plan-making a judgment about the likely level of new housing required. 

“I also think that in plan-making we should have a system whereby once a plan has been adopted, a community can feel confident that you don’t get speculative development undermining the commitment to local democratic control.”

Mr Holmes asked him: “The target of 300,000 a year makes local communities’ blood drain from their face, particularly in areas like mine where a local authority has built double that which was required under assessed need. People are quite rightly concerned about that, even though they recognise that we need housing.

“If a local authority over the past five or seven years has built more than the assessed need is required, would a future formula under your stewardship recognise that and align some future formula to reducing the number of houses required locally?”

Mr Gove replied: “Yes. That’s what we propose to do. 

“There are at least two things we want to do to acknowledge those authorities that have outperformed expectations, requests or targets. 

“And also to ensure that if there is a robust plan in place and a clear pipeline, that the local authority is not held to be in breach of the five-year land supply requirement.”

The minister also said it was not the case that national planning policies would override local plans.

“I do know there are some concerns about a perceived power grab and what I want to do is provide people with reassurance on that,” he said.

“Quite rightly it should be the case that if a local community has invested time and care in making sure it has a robust local plan, that should prevail.”

Why Planning Thinking Must Reject the Dogma of Longtermism

Few in the last few weeks could have missed the media treatment of Elon Musk or Sam Beckman-Fried. Yet they both share a moral philosophy ‘longtermism’ – which is both increasingly influential and controversial. To the extent of it being described as a new religion.

Long termism evolved out of the movement known as effective altruism

Everyone wants to do good, but many ways of doing good are ineffective. The EA community is focused on finding ways of doing good that actually work.

By itself this is a motherhood and apple pie statement, but what has made effective altruism controversial is its association with the concept of ‘longtermism

The key figure here is the Oxford Philosopher William Macaskill in his book ‘What We Owe the Future’ (2022)

Macaskill has two main arguments, people in the future matter as much as people born today, Second, the future could be vast. Absent catastrophe, most people who will ever live have not yet been born. Third, our actions may predictably influence how well this long-term future goes. In sum, it may be our responsibility to ensure future generations get to survive and flourish.

Closely related to this is arguments about the social discount rate – what rate we discount for example carbon emissions. The Stern review from 2005 commissioned by Gordon Brown argued for a low time discounting (0.1%), this was criticised by many economists.

Economists express current and future costs and benefits on a comparable basis, they discount future amounts, converting them to the equivalent present value. At a 3% discount rate, £103 a year from now has a present value of £100.

Stern generally accepted the philosophical argument now put forward by liong-termists for treating all generations equally, he also observes that there is a small, but non-zero, probability that future generations will not exist – for example, if a natural or man-made disaster destroys most or all of the human race.

Conversely if you set the discount rate high you reduce the cost of carbon. The Trump Administration set it at 7% for example.

In the light of these arguments the Treasury undertook a review of the social discount rate last year and kept it at 3.5%

What however if you make the social discount rate close to the limit of zero. A position that might correspond with what has been called ‘strong longtermism’.

William Macaskill has supported a weaker version of longtermism but stated that strong longtermism may be true.

Strong longtermism has led to many utilitarian arguments of dubious moral integrity, such as that near extinction climate change doesn’t matter because in the long term humanity could recover and the true long term threats are things such as total extinction from AI.

MacAskill and Greaves wrote in their 2019 paper laying out the case for strong longtermism: “For the purposes of evaluating actions, we can in the first instance often simply ignore all the effects contained in the first 100 (or even 1000) years, focussing primarily on the further-future effects. Short-run effects act as little more than tie-breakers.”

The revised version, dated June 2021, notably leaves this passage out.

What We Owe the Future surmises that even a “worst-case” climate scenario—the burning of 300 years’ worth of fossil fuels, resulting in three trillion tons of emitted carbon—is a survivable scenario. He surmises the resulting warming of 7 to 9.5 degrees Celsius would be bad, but finds it “hard to see how even this could lead directly to civilizational collapse.”

With the heavy weighting given to future humanity – a humanity expanding ever outwards to the stars in Musks fantasies – you can discount short term ‘blips’ such as famine, inequality and mass starvation if favour of an extreme utilitarian calculus that only the far future matters.

The problem is that only people alive today feel pain and suffering. Freedom from pain and suffering is the starting point of human rights. Extreme utilitarianism such as strong lomgtermism has no conception of human rights, or even social norms,the rule of law or restraint, as long as it is for the ‘future good’. Hence Crypto Bros such as SBF distaining rules, restraint and evening excusing raw theft and fraud as long as it promoted the future of humanity. Ultimately it becomes a form of fascism, which always thinks through the lens of conceptions such as the ‘nation; rather than people. Strong longtermism interposes ‘humanity’ as the above the person concept – hence its bad taste in the mouth relationships to eugenics and transhumanism.

The position that you cant always put a money price on things is a good critique of cost benefit approaches to decisions. ‘What price your grandmother’. But time preference is human and necessary to any form of decision making. If you choose to plant a tree on land you could go food on that metric is inevitable. If you planted a ‘world tree’ with a spectacular galaxy filling payoff in 10,million years in favour of everyone bar one remaining adam and eve as their would be no land for food that would not be a good decision. We naturally discount because we are human and seek to promote welfare within foreseeable horizons for ourselves, our children and our planet.

We make sacrifices for tangible returns providing the uncertainties are controllable. A good example is the planting of oaks by the likes of Capability Brown and Humphry Repton in their designs even though they would not mature for 200 years, presuming an intergenerational management of the landscape. This example is often quoted but can be exaggerated. Most landscapes were adaptations of medieval hunting parks with many even then veteran trees. The planting of new trees was designed to replace their inevitable loss and death. Their patrons would not have paid for landscapes they were incapable of enjoying in their lifetimes.

It is impossible to plan without some form of short-medium term horizon. If you become slaves to the far future, through a discount rate near the limit of zero, short and medium terms returns and comparisons become meaningless. It allows for almost any argument on planning to be trumped by arguments fo far future welfare, however uncertain or far fetched.

Indeed humanity would have long since become extinct had we made decisions on the basis of strong longtermism as we would have not built up the capacity to deflect short terms shocks.