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Michael Gove ‘capitulating’ to nimbys with moves to block new homes, say developers

‘Capitulation to a nimby faction of the Conservative party’, say housebuilders on changes to planning system

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 December 2023 11:15 GMT
Related video: Rishi Sunak 'not contemplating' early election, says Michael Gove

Cabinet minister Michael Gove was accused of “capitulating” to nimby Tory MPs and campaigners after a fresh move to let councils reject housebuilding targets.

Local authorities will no longer have to earmark greenfield land for housing, under new changes to the planning system said to have been made by Mr Gove’s levelling up department.

Mr Gove will allow councils to slash the number of planned homes if development would significantly change the character of an area, according to The Times.

And local authorities are reportedly set to be allowed an exemption from sanctioning homes on prime agricultural land, as the government looks to keep Tory MPs in countryside constituencies happy.

In unusually fierce criticism, the Home Builders Federation’s spokesman said: “No matter how ministers try to package this, it is a capitulation to a nimby faction of the Conservative party.”

The developers’ lobbying group added: “Removing the requirement for local housing needs assessments and allowing councils to build as few homes as they wish will see housebuilding in some areas collapse.

“The overriding outcome of these measures will be fewer new homes, worsening housing affordability and a huge loss of investment in jobs.”

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove expected to set out changes (PA)

Labour also condemned the “reckless decision” that would hold back the economy. Shadow planning minister Matthew Pennycook said it would “further deepen the housing crisis and hammer economic growth”.

The Labour frontbencher added: “This government’s weakness has seen the collapse in local plan development, with planning consents and housebuilding set to fall off a cliff.”

The changes are part of a long-delayed national planning policy framework, after Mr Gove made clear last year that Tory annual house-building targets – a manifesto promise of 300,000 a year – would be dropped.

Under the current planning system, councils must earmark land that meets housing requirements for five years. Local authorities can have building forced upon them under a “presumption” in favour of development, if they fail to come up with realistic plans.

Government figures said the changes to be set out would let local communities “take back control of housing” from centralised planning, and shift the focus to building on already built-up areas of brownfield land.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he would “bulldoze” local opposition to housing and would stand up to his own MPs if they side with so-called nimbys – those who say “not in my back yard”.

Senior Tory MP Theresa Villiers, who has been pushing for watered down targets to protect the green belt, said: “The government has a longstanding commitment to ensure the voice of local communities continues to be heard in relation to what is built in their neighbourhood.”

A government source told The Times: “We are reforming the planning system to put local plan-making at its heart. This will allow communities to take back control of housing in their area, while supporting much-needed development in brownfield and inner-city sites.”

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