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Michael Gove Promises "Radical Action" To Build One Million Homes

(Alamy)

5 min read

Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove has promised "radical action to unlock the supply of new homes", with a commitment to build one million new houses over the course of this Parliament.

Gove announced the new reforms to the planning system at King's Cross, London, and claimed the government will prioritise building more homes in cities such as London. 

His plans include a new urban quarter in Cambridge made up of new homes, laboratories and green spaces. 

"We know there are immediate challenges to future growth. Across the developed world, there are economic pressures and there is therefore a need for radical action to unlock the supply of new homes," Gove said.

"Our long term plan for economic recovery is a long term plan for housing. And the first and most important component of that plan is our programme of urban regeneration and a new inner city.

"We are unequivocally, unapologetically and intensively concentrating our biggest efforts in the hearts of cities, because that's the right thing to do, economically, environmentally and culturally."

He added the government will prioritise brownfield development as opposed to building on the green belt.

"The economic and environmental imperatives all point towards a move away from a land hungry destruction of natural habitats in favour of a much more efficient regeneration of our cities."

Gove said the UK has been "markedly inefficient" in how it uses land to build homes."The rate of housebuilding in rural areas have been greater than in urban areas. And in our cities, especially those outside London, the population densities are much lower than in comparable competitor Western nations."

Adam Hawksbee, Deputy Director of Onward, told LBC he believed the government will build one million homes across this parliament but did not think it was enough.

"So even when that was said a few years ago [to build one million homes], that was a relatively conservative figure. But the challenge is going to be... getting to those 300,000 a year numbers.

"Michael Gove has always said that although he moved away from the target, it was still an ambition," he said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed he wants "more people to realise the dream of owning their own home." "We won’t do that by concreting over the countryside – our plan is to build the right homes where there is the most need and where there is local support, in the heart of Britain’s great cities," he said.

“Our reforms today will help make that a reality, by regenerating disused brownfield land, streamlining planning process and helping homeowners to renovate and extend their houses outwards and upwards.” 

Housebuilding has become a major dividing line within the Conservative Party since the party came to power in 2010. Planning reforms put forward by successive Conservative governments have received backlash from backbench rebellions.

In November, almost 50 Tory backbenchers forced the government to scrap mandatory targets to build 300,000 homes a year. Rebels included former cabinet ministers Damian Green, Priti Patel and Esther McVey. 

Earlier this year Conservative MPs blamed housebuilding in towns and suburbs on heavy local election defeats in May. A senior Tory MP told PoliticsHome an increase in development in London and the south east cost the Conservative Party seats.  

Former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, who spearheaded the campaign to remove mandatory housebuilding targets, told PoliticsHome she broadly supported the Government's plan and said it was practical for it to concentrate on urban regeneration in cities. 

"It makes sense to focus development on urban regeneration sites in big cities to take the pressure off suburban and rural areas. That is a good way to deliver a high volume of new housing without resorting to building on the green belt or forcing tower blocks on low rise suburban areas. Now we need to see the Mayor of London get building in places like Old Oak Common and Becton as advocated by Michael Gove today," she added. 

One Conservative MP, who voted for the Villiers amendment, told PoliticsHome they supported Gove's speech today. "Many of us have been pushing for this approach for a long time," they added. 

However, despite this warm reception from some rebels, Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire, tweeted he will do everything he can to "stop the Government’s nonsense plans to impose mass housebuilding on Cambridge."

"Cambridge already has about the highest housebuilding in the country, and under the local plans that is set to double with 50,000 new homes by 2050, effectively doubling the size of Cambridge. But there is one major problem: we have run out of water," he added on social media.

Ant Breach, Senior Analyst at Centre for Cities, said the Government's plans were encouraging but added only by building "up and and out of cities will we start to close the gap on England’s 4.3 million missing homes.”

“A key part of the UK’s housing troubles is that its most successful cities are too low-rise and they lack mid-rise apartment buildings, especially compared to their European counterparts. So it’s encouraging to see the Government take steps to change this across twenty different cities – both for the economy and for the environment," Breach added. 

“But densification won’t solve all their problems. Cities will need to expand outwards too, and this means green belt reform is essential. Only by building both up and out of cities will we start to close the gap on England’s 4.3 million missing homes.”

Earlier this month PoliticsHome reported that Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena, leader of the Conservative Growth Group (CGG), claimed he wanted to see a million new homes built in London. 

Jayawardena told PoliticsHome he believes London has space for 500,000 homes on air rights over railways, which is the space directly above train and tube stations. He added that 300,000 more properties could be built on brownfield land, as well as creating 300,000 new homes through the existing regeneration of council estates.

The average house price has increased from £150,633 in 2006 to £286,489 in April 2023, according to the ONS. 

Since 2005 the average property price in London has risen from £232,422 to £533,687. Data found that the most affordable areas in London were more expensive than in the least affordable districts in the North East of England. Typical properties in London are now at least 12 times the average salary in Britain. 

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Read the most recent article written by Tom Scotson - Rachel Reeves Brings Back Compulsory Housebuilding Targets To Boost UK Growth

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