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Jeremy's Blog 8th October 2021: Land Use and Planning

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 7th October 2021

Boris Johnson’s speech yesterday to the Conservative Party Conference is another step in the mystery of the Government’s developing land use policies – indeed of “levelling up”. The pattern is for his high level statements to be developed later by ministers.

It could intend extensive land use change. After a paeon to the UK’s landscape of “untouched moorlands” and “broadleaf forests” with the return of otters and beavers:

“we are going to re-wild parts of the country and consecrate a total of 30 per cent to nature”

In a series of takes on “build back better”, that was “build back beaver”. Later, “build back burger” concluded a note on the deal for UK beef to be sold to the USA.

“30 by 30” – 30 per cent of land to be managed for nature by 2030 – was adopted by both the Prime Minister and Scotland last year but with little sense of its effect, beyond creating new National Parks. “Local Nature Recovery” is a key emerging phrase for England, not just as an environmental land management scheme but for planning control policies under the Environment Bill. It could well mean substantial habitat creation. That Bill brings biodiversity gain while phosphate controls now bear on development in some areas.

Last year’s English planning policy proposals seem shelved, perhaps now to promote housing and work where people are, rather than people moving to where work is:

“you can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country not on green fields not just jammed in the south east but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense”.

Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3, Leeds-Manchester) is mentioned, not HS2. The revised levy and the Design Code, for a sense of place and aesthetics, might endure but costs and biodiversity point to greenfield building.

The speech celebrated owner occupation; Michael Gove has to find ways for this to be affordable when other pressures add cost and could deter land coming forward. Understanding him to see that existing homeowners have bought more additional dwellings (as second homes, buy-to-let, FHLs) than have been built, the focus might move from overall supply to housing finance but there are no easy answers here. Low interest rates, regulations restricting bank lending and “help to buy” funding have shaped present housing markets. Devolved governments and some English neighbourhood plans are looking at planning controls. With deeper issues in local economies, the risks are of perverse results.

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