Will Heaven

How the Tories can ‘level up’ without annoying Nimbys

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Have the Conservatives lost their nerve on planning reform? Not quite, but a couple of small interventions at the Conservative party conference in Manchester point in a new direction. If anything, they suggest more ambition, not less, on the part of the ministerial team involved – though less opportunity for a falling out with southern voters.

The first, by Michael Gove, was yesterday in a Policy Exchange fringe event with Sebastian Payne on the latter’s new book, Broken Heartlands.

The new Levelling Up Secretary told his interviewer that the gap between paying monthly rent and paying monthly mortgage instalments – which are lower than rents for first-time buyers lucky enough to get on the housing ladder – is a ‘cripplingly unfair’ disparity that he wants to fix.

He then highlighted something he described as ‘incredibly counter-intuitive’:

‘You will automatically assume that the areas where the rent is proportionately higher than the cost of your mortgage would be in the South and South East. It’s not. The area where generation rent is suffering more is in Yorkshire and Humber and in the North East.’

Gove and O’Brien – both very early on in their new roles – seem to be hinting at a new priority for the Government on planning reform

So, he argued: 

‘If you really, really wanted to help those who are currently in rented accommodation and want to own their own homes, then the focus shouldn’t necessarily be geographically where it’s been beforehand.’ 

In other words, though he didn’t quite say this, planning reform doesn’t have to be just about overcoming opposition to new building where it is strongest, i.e. in the Home Counties.

Those who think our planning system is stuck in a post-war time warp, based on 1947 legislation (the Town and Country Planning Act), will throw their hands up at this.

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