Earlier this week, Robert Jenrick (Conservative MP for Newark since 2014), the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced a major shake-up of planning laws to allow for housing to be built rapidly and quickly on brownfield sites and designated "growth sites", in response to Boris Johnson's wish to "build, build, build".
It cannot be denied that there is a housing shortage in Britain. However, the real reasons why it has occurred are the effects of Right to Buy from the late 1980s onwards, which has decimated Britain's social housing stock and stigmatised council housing, a lack of affordable homes, speculation on house prices, and one million empty homes which have been left unoccupied not being compulsorily purchased so they can be used for housing.
The planning reforms proposed by Mr Jenrick and co will make Britain's housing problem worse, not better. Here is why.
1. They will create, in effect, a new generation of slums. Brownfield sites are located in former industrial areas or land which has been previously built upon, hence the name. The pressure to build as many housing units as possible will mean that developers, who put profit above all other concerns, will build the smallest homes remotely marketable and liveable, which will be less than 40 square metres and be reminiscent of micro-flats in London. As Stephen Fry's Second Book of General Ignorance stated, we already live in the smallest houses in Europe on average.
2. Local people could be left unable to object to developments or suggest alternative, better developments. The proposed reforms will mean that fast-tracked development on "growth sites" will be taken out of the hands of local councils, as they will receive automatic permission once designated as a growth site by the Secretary of State. This means people living on or near the proposed development in question would be unable to object or suggest a better alternatives, even if those developments result in spoiling an area's natural character or create heavy traffic and pollution problems.
3. The proposed removal of section 106 could exacerbate a lack of affordable housing, contrary to those claiming otherwise. The replacement infrastructure levy would not be enough for councils to ensure sufficient affordable housing, or social housing, both of which are desperately needed in this country.
So what is the solution, you ask?
The solution is to ensure that homes left completely unoccupied after six months without good cause are automatically compulsorily purchased by the local council in question, which will also solve the rising homelessness problem in Britain, to end "Right to Buy" completely, to ensure that there is a minimum quota of affordable housing nationally, to stop speculation on house prices, and as a side measure to bring council tax bands up to date, since council tax bills have a significant effect on whether housing is affordable or not.