Full copy of letter sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.

As reported in today’s press, John Penrose and 2 other former Conservative ministers have expressed concern that the Government’s proposed planning reforms are “too weak to make a difference on the scale that’s going to be needed” to solve the housing crisis. The following is a full copy of the letter sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.

Dear Secretary of State, 

We are following up on your 5th February announcement, about changing planning so residential and commercial premises can ‘Build Up Not Out’ to create new homes. 

You are absolutely right that overhauling our slow, expensive, uncertain and conflict-ridden planning laws is the place to start.  But given the size of our housing crisis, we’d like to encourage you to be even bolder. 

Unless these proposals allow for building up not out in all towns and cities, and without red tape, they will be too weak to make a difference on the scale that’s going to be needed.

As you will be aware, the leaders of the largest housing providers are supporting our proposal to ‘Build Up Not Out’, and the Chancellor’s recent budget also committed to higher-density building ‘that maximises the potential in cities and towns for new homes while protecting the Green Belt.’ 

As your department’s Housing White Paper says, the only way to make homes more affordable is to build a lot more of them. We haven’t built enough homes for decades and the lack of supply has caused soaring prices and created one of the biggest barriers to social progress in our country today. There is no time to waste, otherwise house prices will continue to spiral and we will lock a generation out of the dream of home ownership.

‘Build Up Not Out’ would extend Permitted Development so that planning permission is no longer required for urban property owners to build up to the height of the tallest building in the same block, or to the fifth story (ie less than the height of mature local trees), whichever is greater. So the result would be mansion blocks, terraces or mews housing, not sky-high tower blocks. 

Local authorities could issue local building codes to ensure that designs complied with particular local architectural styles, or they could insist that they only added new dwellings rather than extending existing ones. Local planners and planning inspectors would be able to take account of the newly-created sites in their assessment of 5 year housing supply. 

‘Build Up Not Out’ will attract much-needed new investment to regenerate and save tired or run-down town and city centres and would encourage small and medium-sized builders and new entrants to the housebuilding industry, widening the sources of housing delivery.

It is also much greener, because it reduces both commuting (because people can live closer to their jobs) and urban sprawl, by cutting the pressure on green fields.  

Listed properties or conservation area sites would still need to obtain heritage consent for any changes, and building regulations on building safety etc would be unchanged. Non-urban sites, and larger urban ones (where redevelopment would have a big impact on the local environment) would still need planning permission in the normal way. 

But ‘Build Up Not Out’ has to be ambitious: just building a few flats above shops in struggling High Streets or around train stations won’t be nearly enough to solve the huge problem which you’ve (rightly) outlined in your White Paper. If we’re going to make a big enough difference, we have to be far bolder than that. The idea needs to apply much more broadly, to free up sites in seaside towns, market towns and suburbs across the entire country, otherwise we will never build at the scale and speed which is desperately needed. 

Now is the moment when these much-needed and transformational new measures are needed most. Please make sure you don’t miss it. A generation of potential house-owners and renters is watching.

We would welcome the chance to discuss this with you in person.

John Penrose, Nick Boles and Mark Prisk

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