As the two remaining Conservative Party leadership candidates battle it out for the top job, Planning takes a look at their comments during the campaign about planning and housing delivery.
Truss, the MP for South West Norfolk, and the frontrunner to become the next Prime Minister, has made a flurry of planning-related announcements in her leadership campaign.
The Express reported last week that Truss told it that she would "rip up red tape that's holding back housebuilding and give more power to local communities". She added: "As a former councillor, I remember those painful hours sitting through planning committees. I'll put power back in local councillors' hands who know far better than Whitehall what their communities want." Truss was a councillor for Eltham South in the London Borough of Greenwich from 2006-10.
Truss used a TV debate with rival Rishi Sunak last month to set out her plans for investment zones with simplified planning regimes. Truss told the audience that she wanted to introduce new low-tax areas to drive growth, which would also benefit from reduced regulations, including relaxed planning rules. She also said she wanted to use the zones to encourage the construction of new model villages like the Victorian-era creation of Bournville, near Birmingham, and Saltaire, in Bradford.
Truss said in a column in the Telegraph (subscription) that the zones would be "at the heart of my vision for levelling up". She added: "We will work with local communities to identify sites ripe for transformation across the country through lower taxes, reduced planning restrictions and red tape. These zones would open the floodgates to new waves of investment. They will become new hubs for innovation and enterprise in the spirit of historic towns like Bournville and Saltaire."
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph last month, Truss said she would amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to replace centralised housing requirement figures with tax cuts and reduced red tape in "opportunity zones" to make it easier and quicker for developers to build on brownfield land in those areas. "I want to abolish the top-down, Whitehall-inspired Stalinist housing targets," she said. "I think that's the wrong way to generate economic growth."
She also suggested she would end the government's moratorium on fracking, saying that it should be allowed in parts of the country where it had local consent.
Speaking during a Conservative Home online hustings event in July, Truss said she believed that one of the problems around housing "is that we've taken a one size fits all policy approach to housing and we need different policies in different parts of the country. The situation in Cornwall is very, very different to that in London; it is very, very different than that in the north of England, or Scotland."
Truss said she believed that in cities "we should be building up more" and "make more of the space we have", while in the countryside she said she was a "supporter of allowing incremental expansion of villages rather than these massive targets that land on the back of local councils". She also spoke in favour of delivering supporting infrastructure for new homes, rather than just having "housing estates plunked in the middle of nowhere with no discernible facilities or infrastructure to support them".
She added that, in order to avoid "another planning war" within the Conservative party, it was "very, very important that we have policies that command local consent, that local people can support, because they know that it's going to help their children, their grandchildren, their friends, get on the housing ladder, and that's how we need to develop that policy".
Meanwhile, Truss has pledged to build the Northern Powerhouse Rail link, connecting Liverpool and Leeds, via Manchester and Bradford, shelved by Boris Johnson last year. Quoted in the Liverpool Echo, Truss said: "We will build the Northern Powerhouse Rail to link up communities and unlock potential across the North. That's how we will bring better jobs to the North and address productivity."
Truss's approach to housebuilding is more subdued than that followed in her 2019 Tory leadership bid. Then, she mooted building a million homes on the green belt. Quoted in the Daily Mail, she said: "We need to build a million homes on the London green belt near railway stations, and around other growing cities, specifically to allow the under 40s to be able to own their homes. We should allow villages to expand by four or five houses a year without having to go through the planning system, so people can afford to live locally."
Speaking at a Conservative Party hustings event in Exeter on Tuesday, Truss stated she would put a stop to solar farms. Energy Live news reported her as saying: “Our fields should be filled with our fantastic produce – whether it’s the great livestock, the great arable farms. It shouldn’t be full of solar panels and I will change the rules. I will change the rules to make sure we are using our high value agricultural land for farming.”
Prior to his leadership bid, Sunak, the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire and a former housing and communities department minister, had made very few public comments on planning issues. However, as he has toured Conservative constituencies around the country, he has made a series of headline-grabbing comments, including in relation to the green belt.
Sunak has vowed to prevent local authorities from changing green belt boundaries to release land for development if he becomes Prime Minister. A statement released by his campaign said that Sunak would use the forthcoming review of the National Planning Policy Framework "to stop local authorities releasing land for development by requesting changes to green belt boundaries".
Sunak "will order planning bureaucrats to automatically reject any such proposals", the statement said.
The former chancellor will also task his housing secretary to change policy to make it clear that "if a local community has clearly judged a development to be inappropriate", it "should not be permitted on green belt under any circumstances". At the moment, the NPPF says it can be permitted where there are "very special circumstances".
Sunak also said he will aim to help councils to complete local plans by "immediately relaxing constraints", such as the requirement to demonstrate a five year housing land supply and the 'duty to cooperate', which "prevent local authorities from getting local plans in place".
He has also promised to review assessments of local housing need, which he pointed out are based on out-of-date 2014 Office of National Statistics numbers.
According to Housing Today, Sunak's team has also confirmed that he would not support the government's manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes a year if elected.
Speaking during the Conservative Home online hustings event in July, Sunak said that "getting the consent for the number of homes we need is a challenge". Highlighting solutions to this, Sunak said that the UK has a "decent amount" of brownfield land and that the government had moved to increase the number of developments on this.
He also highlighted the need for "urban densification", saying that "our cities [are] much less dense than lots of other places around Europe [and it is] easier there to build more houses". In addition, Sunak flagged the work of self build advocate Richard Bacon MP in promoting the use of "modular building", and he also suggested that more work was required from government to address land banking, "making sure that we have a system where large developers can't hog the land instead of it being released for house building".
Away from housing policy, Sunak has promised not to relax the planning rules restricting onshore wind farms if he wins the Tory leadership race and will instead focus on building more offshore turbines, according to reports. Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, the former chancellor also pledged to introduce a legal target to make the country "energy self-sufficient" by 2045, by overseeing a massive expansion of offshore wind. He said: "Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore."
Sunak also hinted at restricting solar development on farmland and reversing proposed government moves to allow onshore wind farm development in England. He argued at hustings in Exeter this week that leadership involves making sure Westminster understands the needs of rural communities, which in turn means “making sure our fields are used for food production and not solar panels”, Solar Power Portal reported.
3 August 2022 by Michael Donnelly