Housing has been a thorny issue for the government in recent times. Spearheaded by nervous Conservative backbenchers facing local opposition to development, targets and reforms have been abandoned as Sunak and the Cabinet have sought to quell potential rebellions within the parliamentary party.
It is with this in mind that yesterday’s Long Term Plan for Housing should be viewed. Announced by Michael Gove, the plans can be seen as an attempt by the DLUHC Secretary to generate a housing (and, indeed, levelling-up) legacy.
Seeking to swerve further confrontation with already agitated Conservative backbenchers, Gove highlighted a greater focus on inner-city densification, easier utilisation of existing buildings and a targeted focus on future growth areas within England.
There is much of note set out by Gove. Most prominent are plans to capitalise on Cambridge’s position and transform the city – and surrounding area – into “Europe’s science capital”, building on the region’s world-leading life-sciences and advanced manufacturing base. This is not without challenges – notably local concerns and opposition to development and challenges regarding water supply. The announcement of a Cambridge Delivery Group, to be spearheaded by Peter Freeman, demonstrates an understanding of the challenges ahead, but also the desire to see Cambridge succeed and deliver for the UK. The Prime Minister, himself a disciple of Silicon Valley, will no doubt want to see this project succeed.
Positioning the plans within this government’s levelling-up ambitions, focus was given to large-scale opportunities for a ‘”Docklands 2.0” in the East End of London as well as an on transport-led regeneration and investment in other cities and towns including Leeds & Barrow (alongside previously announced schemes in Sheffield and Wolverhampton).
Gove’s reputation as a minister with a desire to tinker can be seen in plans to expand Permitted Development Rights, making it easier to convert department stores, shops and offices into housing. Again, this focus on repurposing existing buildings helps swerve a confrontation with backbenchers over new developments in their constituencies.
The DLUHC Secretary has long championed the ‘building beautiful’ agenda, promoted by organisations such as Policy Exchange and Create Streets with the aim of placing design at the heart of planning. The decision to launch an Office for Place (to be located in Stoke-on-Trent) is aimed at solidifying this ambition and ensuring Gove leaves his legacy on housing.
The measures announced will, naturally, take time to come to fruition but point to long-term priorities in terms of growth and regeneration. Combined they represent the Gove’s effort to make his mark on housing following ongoing battles with his own, often recalcitrant, backbenchers.