Remember ‘localism’ – when David Cameron was going to return powers to local people when it came to things like planning? If that is how the Conservatives’ 14 years in power began, they seem to be ending with the opposite: with Michael Gove threatening to seize the planning reins from Sadiq Khan and get more houses built. ‘If you cannot do what is need to deliver the homes that London needs, I will,’ he wrote in a sniffy letter to London mayor Sadiq Khan ahead of his speech on planning this morning. He has set up an investigation to see whether Khan’s London Plan is holding up housebuilding.
That Britain has a problem with affordable housing is hard to deny. But it is worse than a mere problem. If you are young and looking for somewhere decent – or even half-decent – to live, Britain’s housing market is a constant source of misery. Never mind finding somewhere affordable to buy – it is hard enough finding an affordable place to rent. But are the Conservatives really the problem or the solution? Trouble is there is a deep divide in the party on housing, deeper than any gulf over Rwanda. There are the Nimbys and there is the pro-development wing – and the party veers between favouring one or the other, without ever really coming up with a rational policy which lasts the course. Not even Nicholas Ridley, who popularised the term ‘Nimby’ in the 1980s, had any kind of consistency – he was happy to object to housing when it was in his own Cotswold village. He turned out to be a Nimby himself.
Gove is no different.