'More piecemeal reform': Gove's housing plans could do more harm than good, say critics

Under the plans, new homes will be built in urban areas as opposed to the rural countryside. Credit: PA

Michael Gove's housing announcement has been met scepticism, with the charity Shelter suggesting it amounts to "piecemeal reform" that could do "more harm than good".

Rishi Sunak and his housing secretary have revealed plans to build more homes in cities to protect the countryside from green belt development and prevent "urban sprawl".

But the plans have been labelled a "real mixed bag" by the charity Shelter, while others have said green belt development is "essential" to fill England's reported hole of more than four million homes.

"We need proper investment to build much-needed genuinely affordable homes, not more piecemeal reform," said Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter.

"Converting takeaways and shops into homes and restricting building to city centres won't help. It could risk creating poor quality, unsafe homes that cause more harm than good.

"When we are losing more social housing than we build, the government must work with councils to deliver the quality homes local communities across the country need.

"The Secretary of State clearly agrees these homes are essential, so the government should put its money where its mouth is and get on with building a new generation of social homes."

Shelter's concerns were echoed by the Local Government Association (AGA), who shed doubt on plans to expand permitted development rights.

"Premises such as offices, barns and shops are not always suitable for housing," said Councillor Shaun Davies, chairman of the LGA.

"Further expanding permitted development rights risks creating poor quality residential environments that negatively impact people's health and wellbeing, as well as a lack of affordable housing or suitable infrastructure. "It is disappointing that the government have ignored their own commissioned research that concluded that homes converted through a planning application process deliver higher quality homes than those converted via permitted development rights."

Meanwhile, property consultancy Knight Frank's said the plans are "unlikely to have meaningful impact on housing supply", resulting in hundreds rather than thousands of new homes.

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The official waiting list for social housing remains at about 1.2 million households.

Last week the housing secretary gave an exclusive interview to ITV News in which he pledged the government will build at least 30,000 new social homes a year to tackle the crisis.

He said it is "indefensible" that working people are having to live in vans, caravans, and hostels - experiences that ITV News has repeatedly highlighted.

But there is scepticism over whether the plans announced on Monday will be able to significantly improve the UK's housing crisis.

Ant Breach, senior analyst at Centre for Cities, said densification in urban areas will not solve every problem.

"Cities will need to expand outwards too, and this means green belt reform is essential. Only by building both up and out of cities will we start to close the gap on England's 4.3 million missing homes."

'The government is on track to deliver its manifesto commitment of a million new homes over this Parliament', says Rishi Sunak, but fails to confirm whether or not they'll meet the other manifesto pledge of 300,000 new homes a year

On Monday, both the prime minister and housing secretary said the government is on target to build one million new homes by the end of the current Conservative Parliament.

However, when pressed on progress to build the 300,000 new homes a year also promised in the 2019 Tory manifesto, Mr Gove said it would be meet "as soon as we possibly can".

Labour's Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy said "housebuilding has fallen off a cliff" under the Conservative Government and called Monday's reforms "recycled commitments".

The Party has previously outlined plans to allow developments on green belt land in order to meet the housing needs of local authorities, if it wins the next general election.

Sir Keir Starmer has been scrutinised for the policy, with some of his own frontbenchers opposing developments on green belt land in their own constituencies.

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