It isn’t easy to write about the Conservative Party Conference without focusing on the divisions and controversy, but in the interests of trying to be objective about the housing and planning conversations that were had, it is important to try.
There is still a lot that is unknown in terms of the direction of the latest Government’s policy on planning and housing and, as is often the case, much that is being said is in contrast with the thoughts and ideas of traditional Conservative voters in the leafy suburbs of the south. New Housing Minister Lee Rowley MP did repeat the intention to get rid of top-down housing targets so it is clear that this will now happen. However, what is not clear is if targets per se will disappear altogether or whether, more likely, they will be replaced by some sort of local needs assessment which will, in effect, create a local target. It seems highly unlikely that the Government will create a system where council candidates can campaign in the elections next May on a ticket of stopping housing delivery altogether, but you can be certain that if that door is left open, those campaigns will happen and that candidates who use them will win.
Simon Clarke – the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up Housing and Communities used his speech to reiterate two major points, the first was that there is a great emphasis on Investment Zones as a means of accelerating local delivery using relaxed rules, but only where they have local support. The second was confirmation that the Levelling Up agenda is still very much a Government priority.
Arguably, it was Paul Scully MP, the Local Government Minister, who made the most interesting contribution. His most reported comment was that he still felt there was fat to be trimmed off local government spending, but he also said that he had a clean whiteboard to play with as far as local government funding reform was concerned, this latter point will probably receive a cautious welcome from council leaders.
We have also been told that a new planning bill is in the works, so we can expect a white paper at some point in the near future, hopefully, it won’t be too long before we start to put some meat on the bones of policies that have been announced so far.