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Michael Gove has outlined new policies intended to increase the supply of homes on used land in big cities in England, as the government faces political pressure over its failure to reach its housing targets.
The levelling up secretary on Tuesday said his department would consult on proposals aimed at making it easier to get permission to build on previously developed sites in England’s 20 largest cities if local authorities are falling short on housing delivery.
The government would also consult on changes to remove planning constraints for “new extensions or large loft conversions” in existing homes, and introduce legislation to allow more commercial buildings to be converted into residential properties without planning approval.
Gove said the new policies would “tackle under-delivery in our key towns and cities — where new homes are most needed”.
The government has been under mounting pressure to show it can tackle a chronic undersupply of housing stock that has contributed to people struggling to afford homes, record increases in rents, and homelessness.
But Marc Vlessing, chief executive of Pocket Living, a developer that has pushed for new policies to make it easier to build on small urban sites, said: “It’s really hard to see how this is going to make a material difference . . . This is just tinkering.”
Gove has stood by the government target of building 300,000 new homes each year in England by the mid-2020s. The number of net new dwellings stayed flat at about 230,000 last year, according to official figures.
Last year the government made concessions to anti-development backbench Tory MPs, including loosening rules around requiring local authorities to meet their local housing needs.
Gove has focused on supplying homes on previously developed land, known as “brownfield” sites, less politically sensitive than building on “green fields” or in greenbelt areas. However, industry experts said that even fully tapping brownfield land will not be enough to meet long-term housing needs.
The proposals announced on Tuesday would mean planning authorities in the 20 largest English cities “will be made to follow a ‘brownfield presumption’, if housebuilding drops below expected levels”, the department said.
The government said the presumption would make it easier to get permission to build on these sites. However, there will still be hurdles for developers to overcome.
The policy change was based on a recommendation from a panel of experts commissioned to review London’s housing plans, whose report was published on Tuesday. Gove decided to apply the recommendation to other cities.