Michael Gove: ‘Street votes’ plan to let neighbours veto development will boost housing supply

Ballots will stop residents being so ‘resistant’ to development, says cabinet minister

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 11 May 2022 10:56
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<p>Levelling up secretary Michael Gove </p>

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove

Michael Gove has said a government plan to give neighbours the right to veto housing in their area will help build support for new development.

The cabinet minister defended the watering down of housing plans in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill – suggesting that the so-called “street votes” move will boost much-needed supply of new homes.

Mr Gove said “local democratic ballots, sometimes street by street” would help boost the quality of homes – allowing residents to become “partners” in building projects.

The levelling up secretary admitted the government would fail to meet its target to build 300,000 new homes this year – but claimed planning changes would lead to more development.

“Communities have been understandably resistant because new buildings haven’t been beautiful, they haven’t been built with the quality required,” he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The minister said people are “resistant to development” because the environment hasn’t been protected and authorities were too often driven by arbitrary targets for numbers.

Mr Gove added: “People, when it comes to housing development, should be partners. We are going to do everything we can in order to ensure that more of the right homes are built in the right way in the right places.”

“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.”

People could be given the right to vote on proposed property extensions as well as new homes, according to the government’s plan for the bill.

The Times reported that local residents will be permitted to hold referendums over both the style and size of extensions, conversions and new homes on their street, as well as deciding whether more conservatories can be built without full planning permission.

Labour MP Clive Betts, chair of the housing committee, said the “street votes” plan was a gimmick, arguing that it was not possible for residents to “decide absolutely everything” about building in their area.

The government has ditched a previous proposals which would have made it harder to block housing development after a backlash from Tory MPs worried about voters in leafy shire constituencies.

There was a plan to bring in a zonal system where councils would be expected to identify “growth areas” for housing where planning restrictions would have been relaxed.

Former Tory housing secretary Robert Jenrick, who had proposed the zonal system, warned that the government will now miss its 300,000 homes-a-year manifesto pledge “by a country mile”.

Mr Jenrick raised concerns that the number of homes built under Boris Johnson’s first year in office will 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 told the Commons.

Mr Gove responded to the criticism on Wednesday, telling the BBC: “It’s no kind of success simply to hit target if the homes are shoddy, in the wrong place, don’t have the infrastructure required, and are not contributing to beautiful communities.”

He said 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.

Meanwhile, the levelling up secretary’s department has again pledged to reform renters’ rights by scrapping no-fault evictions, several years after promising to take action.

Mr Gove also highlighted further protections for leaseholders as among the measures his department had taken on the cost of living crisis.

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