• Development Intelligence

Housing targets – the bad joke continues

We have a new housing minister, who goes by the name of Lee Rowley. (Yes, us too.) The DI team have wearily lost track of exactly how many housing ministers we've gone through in the last 20-odd years. It's rather got to the point where we don't bother counting them anymore. We used to laugh that they only lasted about a year on average; the last two haven’t even made it past the six month point.

Anyway, rather unsurprisingly Lee has a new housing policy. Young Lee was a Westminster councillor in his 20s where his claim to fame was helping completely screw up its parking strategy which lost the then council leader his job. And having now been in Parliament for a whole five years, with this track record he is just the guy to solve the decades old national housing crisis. Go on Lee, we know you can do it! We’re rooting for you!

So, Lee has reaffirmed PM Truss’ quite brilliant strategy to increase house building numbers: we're going to stop having a national target and stop telling local authorities how many they need. (Stop sniggering at the back, you lot, and listen to the brilliant strategy!)

Call us picky, but the DI team has spotted a teeny tiny flaw in the plan, so small we are almost embarrassed to even bother mentioning it, but here goes.

During the recent Tory leadership election campaign our wonderful new PM committed to “abolish the top down, Whitehall-inspired, Stalinist housing targets”. This rhetoric was aimed to push back against that previous dastardly evil plan, known as the 2020 Planning White Paper (boo, hiss), inspired by Robert Jenrick (bigger boo, bigger hiss) and Dom Cummings (even bigger boo, even bigger hiss) who came up with the previous quite brilliant plan that central Government would have a supercomputer somewhere in the basement of the then MHCLG which would actually tell local authorities how many homes they needed. (Outrageous, I hear you scream all the way from Tunbridge Wells!)

This was of course a counter revolution to the previous regime dreamt up by the Coalition Government where they cunningly let local authorities calculate how many homes they needed themselves. (Spoiler alert - they aimed low! Who saw that coming?) You may even recall the political heavyweight Eric Pickles, the then responsible Secretary of State, who said we needed to rid ourselves of the “failed Soviet tractor style top-down planning targets”. (Hang on…)

This was itself a counteraction to the previous system under New Labour which had the audacity to dictate to local authorities how many homes they needed through regional spatial strategies, which still to this day make the average planner go all misty eyed with a deep sense of loss.

Our chairman is so old that he has watched this game of house building number tennis for 30 years. He’s through and out the other side of the pain barrier and for him it’s actually become fun now.

But…crucial question: has any of this back and forth got the number of homes we need actually built? Answer: errr…no.

Well that went well then.

And now we have the Truss Government’s latest planning reform wheezes being daily briefed to the media. Apparently, the way to help kick start economic growth is to require less affordable housing from smaller residential schemes, lift the effective Natural England development moratoria due to water and nutrient neutrality, extend householder permitted development rights and scrap the proposed ban on no fault evictions. Now all of these might have some individual merit. But after so many rounds of botched planning reform, do we think any of these will survive the month, let alone the year?

Good luck, Lee. Must dash. Need to check if a new housing minister hast been appointed in the time it took us to write this article.