The most important policy of Boris Johnson’s new government may be one that wasn’t in the manifesto at all. Today’s news that the government intends radical planning reform is welcome to everyone who understands the profound damage to wages, growth and fairness caused by our decades-long failure to build enough homes in the right places.
I apologize to those rendered catatonic by my endless ranting about it. Luckily someone was listening.
On Tuesday night Dominic Cummings briefed all ministerial aides on the Government’s plans, and “made the point that every time a review is done, planning always comes up as a big drag on productivity, but nobody ever does anything about it. But we are going to do something about it.”
There will be new homes on greenbelt land where there is already development, ‘such as around railway stations’, as Professor Paul Cheshire has been proposing for decades. And ‘Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Chancellor Sajid Javid have been quietly preparing a major overhaul of the system’ that will give homeowners and developers the right to add two floors without necessarily needing to apply for planning permission.
It is clever to play to the new Conservative voters in the many northern places that have been building vastly more housing per head than London, by saying it is time for the South East to take some of the load.
There will be a new guarantee that planning ‘applicants will get their fees repaid in full if local authorities don’t meet tight deadlines’, and a new permitted development right to demolish commercial properties and replace it with homes.
Apparently much of this was pushed by Mr Javid as Communities Secretary but blocked by Mrs May.
Much of this is good news, but there are three big questions.