‘Utter madness’ for neighbours to vote on planning permits, says committee chair

Michael Gove has said giving the public a greater say in the planning process will build support for new housing developments.

Amy Gibbons
Wednesday 11 May 2022 23:54
Conservative MP Huw Merriman (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)
Conservative MP Huw Merriman (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

A Tory committee chairman has lashed out at a suggestion new legislation could allow residents the chance to vote on whether or not their neighbours are granted planning permission.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has said giving the public a greater say in the planning process will build support for new housing developments amid warnings the shortage of homes could hit support for the Tories.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday is expected to enable local communities in England to stage referendums over the style and size of extensions, new homes and conversions on their street.

But reports that residents may be given the chance to vote on their neighbours’ planning permission have been described as “utter madness” by Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Committee.

The Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle tweeted on Wednesday evening: “Utter madness. What’s next; ‘I veto the colour of your front door or your car on the drive’?

“The aspirational party I joined under Thatcher didn’t hold a poll, or deny hard-working people the chance to improve their homes, based on neighbour envy”.

But the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities said the move to give residents greater say over developments in their area would not be focused on vetoing or blocking certain projects.

Ministers are said to hope that the new legislation will encourage support for more intensive development by allowing residents to make improvements to their properties that would significantly increase their value.

However, some senior Conservatives have warned the Government’s failure to meet its manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes a year was letting down hundreds of thousands of people desperate to get on the housing ladder.

Michael Gove said greater public involvement will build support for new housing (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Gove acknowledged the target was unlikely to be met this year and said while it was important to build more homes that was not the only criterion ministers had to consider.

He said there was understandable resistance among communities to new developments because too often they were of poor quality, without the requisite infrastructure and built in the wrong location.

“People have been resistant to development because too often you have simply had numbers plonked down simply in order to reach an arbitrary target.

“You have had dormitories not neighbourhoods,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I think it is critically important that even as we seek to improve housing supply you also seek to build communities that people love and are proud of.

“It is no kind of success if simply to hit a target, the homes that are built are shoddy, in the wrong place, don’t have the infrastructure required and are not contributing to beautiful communities.

“I am not bound by one criterion alone when it comes to development.

“Arithmetic is important but so is beauty, so is belonging, so is democracy and so is making sure that we are building communities.”

Former housing secretary Robert Jenrick has said the Government is set to miss its target by ‘a country mile’ (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Gove added that he did not want to be “tied to a Procrustean bed”, a reference to the Greek myth of Procrustes who tortured people to make them fit into a one-size-fits-all bed.

His comments came after former housing secretary Robert Jenrick warned that the Government was set to miss the 300,000 homes-a-year target “by a country mile”.

Speaking in the Commons Queen’s Speech debate on Tuesday, Mr Jenrick raised concerns that the number of homes built under Boris Johnson’s first year in office would be the “high-water mark” for “several years to come”.

“It is a matter of the greatest importance to this country that we build more homes.

“Successive governments have failed to do this.

“There’s always an excuse,” he said.

“We’ve got to get those homes built because we’re letting down hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

“People are homeless today because we’re failing to build those houses.

“Young people’s rightful aspiration to get on the housing ladder is being neglected because we’re not building those homes.”

We need a government that will take action now to help people who are struggling with rising bills and prices, and that will invest to give them the long-term security of owning their own home

Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy

Labour’s shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy said Mr Gove’s suggestion that the Government would miss its own house-building target showed the Tories “can no longer claim to be the party of homeownership”.

She said: “Another day, another broken promise.

“Under the Conservatives, housing has become less affordable, spending on rent has skyrocketed and homeownership has gone down.

“All this puts more pressure on families facing a cost-of-living crisis.

“We need a government that will take action now to help people who are struggling with rising bills and prices, and that will invest to give them the long-term security of owning their own home.”

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