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Councils to come under pressure to build on brownfield land

Michael Gove is set to intervene to force City Hall to build more on brownfield land.

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Michael Gove is set to intervene in London to push for more developments on brownfield sites in the capital, as part of a wider move to pile pressure on local councils to build new homes.

The Levelling Up Secretary wants every council in England to prioritise housebuilding on brownfield sites under new plans, with extra pressure set to be brought to bear on larger city councils that fail to meet housing targets.

The move is part of a broader effort by the Conservatives to boost housebuilding, with younger voters in particular expressing concern about the difficulty of getting on the property ladder.

But it also is likely to spark a clash with Sadiq Khan, after an independent review of the mayor’s London plan recommended making it easier to get permission to build on brownfield sites.

The review was announced last December and is due to be published later, but the finding prompted a strong defence from Mr Khan – who faces re-election in May – about his housebuilding record.

Rishi Sunak, in an article in the Times, said he understood “people’s anger” about the fact home ownership “feels too far away for too many, especially the younger generation”.

But he also sought to address concerns from some Tory voters, writing that the Government would not “simply ignore people’s concerns or bulldoze through local opposition”.

“All that would build is resentment,” he said.

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Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Gove said the move would “tackle under delivery in our key towns and cities”.

Under the proposed reforms, part of a consultation due to run until the end of March, it will become harder for the largest city councils to refuse construction on brownfield land if local housing targets are not met.

The “brownfield presumption”, covering the 20 biggest towns and cities, will make it easier to get permission to build on previously developed sites, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said.

The planned changes come alongside efforts that the Government hopes will cut red tape preventing derelict sites and unused buildings being turned into homes, with legislation set to amend planning regulations to make it easier for commercial buildings to be repurposed.

Barrister Christopher Katkowski, who led the review of the London plan, said: “I am delighted to see the idea which I, together with my colleagues on the London Plan Review, came up with of a planning policy presumption in favour of delivering new homes on brownfield sites being taken forward on a wider scale.”

In a letter to the London mayor, Mr Gove also said he was “seeking views on whether changes are required to the threshold at which a residential planning application is referrable to you as the Mayor of London, which is currently set at 150 homes or more”.

Published early on Tuesday, Mr Gove wrote: “The Government will not hesitate to go further, making sure that our capital city has the housing it needs.

“Alongside consulting on these changes, I want to inform you that I am also announcing £50 million of new investment in London to unlock new homes through estate regeneration.”

But a spokeswoman for the London mayor rejected the review as a “stunt from the Government to distract from their abysmal record of failure” and accused Mr Sunak of “undermining devolution to distract from its record”.

She said: “The facts are clear – London under Sadiq Khan is outbuilding the rest of the country. Housing completions in the capital have hit the highest level since the 1930s, according to the Government’s own data.

“London is also delivering twice the level of council homebuilding as the rest of the country combined, showing up ministers’ dismal failure nationally.”

Accusing ministers of previously ignoring calls for greater investment in brownfield development, she said Mr Khan would not “take lectures from a government that has scrapped housing targets nationally and sent people’s rents and mortgages soaring”.

The set of measures is the latest in a series of announcements on housebuilding, with Mr Sunak and his ministers under pressure to deliver ahead of a general election later this year.

The Government last year dropped compulsory housing targets to ward off a potential backbench Tory rebellion, choosing instead to make the target to build 300,000 homes a year in England advisory, after construction repeatedly fell short.

Labour’s Angela Rayner said the new proposals were a “desperate and frankly laughable attempt to blame others for 14 years of Tory housing failure”.

The shadow housing secretary said: “A threadbare announcement consisting of old, failed policies and minor tweaks to brownfield planning policy is not going to paper over Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove’s reckless decision to capitulate to anti-housebuilding Tory backbenchers.”

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