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Michael Gove accused of caving to pressure from Tory nimbys blocking new homes

Countryside campaigners ‘often have good reason to just say no’, says housing secretary – as he unveils big changes to planning system

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 19 December 2023 15:57 GMT
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Cabinet minister Michael Gove has claimed the government will take on council planning departments that “drag their feet” when it comes to the approval of new homes.

But the housing secretary was accused of “capitulating” to nimby Tory MPs after he announced moves to let councils reject housebuilding targets in the countryside.

Local authorities will no longer have to earmark greenfield land for new homes, under changes revealed by the levelling up secretary on Tuesday.

Mr Gove denied caving to pressure by the nimbys – the “not in my back yard” campaigners and MPs – as he vowed to get tough with councils who “delay” housebuilding.

The senior Tory said there would be “no excuse” for not dealing with planning applications promptly under reforms aimed at dealing with England’s housing shortage.

The government will give local authorities three months to come up with plans to meet the housing need in their area. Those that fail could have developments forced upon their area, and councillors could also be stripped of their powers to delay applications.

“There is now no excuse for not having a [housing] plan in place … There is no excuse for the arbitrary refusal of planning permissions. Delay, no. Denial, no,” Mr Gove said.

Michael Gove says nimbys ‘often have good reason to just say no’ (EPA)

The government will name and shame local councils by publishing “robust league tables” on their planning system, Mr Gove also announced.

But councils will be able to turn down housing development if it would significantly change the character of an area or build on the green belt.

Last year, Rishi Sunak and Mr Gove dropped compulsory housing targets to ward off a potential backbench Tory rebellion – choosing instead to make the 300,000 target in England only advisory.

Asked if he was a “yimby” – a pro-housing campaigner who says “yes in my back yard” – Mr Gove said: “Yes.” But Mr Gove also defended anti-housing campaigners, saying they “often have good reason to just say no”.

Deputy Labour leader and shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner said: “Despite all this tough talk, [Mr Gove] and Rishi Sunak have stripped away every measure that would get shovels in the ground and houses built to appease their backbenchers.”

“We simply can’t be expected to believe that the government will take the steps necessary to get the homes built that Britain desperately needs,” Ms Rayner added – attacking the “reckless” decision to abolish local targets.

Labour’s leader Angela Rayner says Tory promises cannot be ‘believed’ (PA)

The Home Builders Federation (HBF) also accused Mr Gove and ministers of a “capitulation” to Tory MPs in the countryside.

“No matter how it is packaged, it will result in fewer new homes and represents another victory for NIMBY backbenchers,” said HBF executive chairman Stewart Baseley.

The levelling up secretary has also set out plans for a major expansion around Cambridge, with around 150,000 new homes. And he set up a major clash with London Mayor Sadiq Khan as he ordered a review of the supply of homes in the capital.

Mr Khan got his defence of London’s building record in early, tweeting: “Oh dear ... the Tories are desperately trying to distract from their catastrophic housing record.”

He said a record number of homes have been built in London, more council homes have been started than since the 1970s – and Labour boroughs are delivering 50 per cent more homes than Tory ones.

“I love Sadiq,” said Mr Gove to laughter during his speech. “What I want to do is help him deliver.” But the Tory minister warned that he could “intervene” in London if housing targets continued to be missed.

Meanwhile, the HBF pointed out that the number of sites granted planning permission in the past 12- months in England was the lowest quarterly figure recorded since such reports began in 2006.

The levelling up department said ministers are “continuing to deliver” on the target of building one million homes over this parliament, between 2019 and January 2025.

Officials said numerous measures to help build homes had been introduced, including bringing forward the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act, which is designed to speed up the planning system, hold developers to account and encourage more councils to put local plans in place.

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