According to a centre-right thinktank established by the new planning minister, Nick Boles, green-belt land in England should be freed up for new housing developments.
In a report which warns of a “failing cycle” on planning, Policy Exchange says releasing 2% of English land for development would allow for the building of an extra 8m homes.
Boles was appointed to the politically sensitive post of planning minister in last week’s reshuffle as the government announced plans to relax planning regulations to underwrite new housebuilding to the tune of £10bn.
But the report by Policy Exchange, the thinktank established by Boles in 2002, warns that the coalition’s plans do not go far enough and the government should be prepared to build on the green belt.
Under a headline “There is no shortage of land in England”, the author Alex Morton writes: “Just 6-10% of England has been developed and only 2.3% has been ‘concreted over’. We can see there is no overall shortage of land, given, for example, in Oxford a hectare of land costs £20,000 for agricultural purposes but £4m for homes. It is artificial scarcity created by planning we are concerned with.
“Releasing just 2% of our land would allow 8m family homes. There is a myth we have lots of brownfield land. Such derelict land exists for 1m homes but this is only a few years supply, and is in areas we need it less. London has such land for just 30,000 homes.”
Morton argues that local residents should be compensated and developments should be of a high quality. “The legitimate fears of nimbys [not in my back yard] must be acknowledged, rather than nimbys being insulted. Quality must rise to the fore. Planners and people must see we will have more Cubbitt and less Corbusier,” he writes.
Thomas Cubitt was London’s main 19th-century master builder who developed much of Belgravia; Le Corbusier was the early 20th-century French architect responsible for modern urban developments such as the building of the new Indian city of Chandigarh.
Boles, whose father Sir Jack Boles was head of the National Trust from 1975 to 1983, has been highly critical of its campaign against chancellor George Osborne’s plans to liberalise planning laws.
Boles told the Tory Reform Group earlier this year: “Business investment is … deterred by the bureaucratic rigidity of our outdated planning regime. So it is essential that we press on with our planning reforms and do not allow the hysterical scaremongering of latterday Luddites like [National Trust chairman] Simon Jenkins to strangle developments that will boost living standards.”
The Policy Exchange report warns that Britain has a “deeply flawed” planning system. It says England’s land market “is more like a command economy” because councils control the use of land.
Morton writes: “The UK’s ‘land market’ is in no real sense a market. Land release is not triggered by market mechanisms but is controlled by councils through the planning system. Land release by councils is governed by plans that try to micromanage all land use within a local authority.”
The system prompts developers to hold back land in a process known as “land banking”, claims Morton, adding: “Developers land bank due to planning. They earned high profits in the 2000s from this model.
“Developers borrow to buy land as they think land prices will rise. The model only works when land prices are stable or rising. However, land prices only rise when too little is being released to satisfy demand. By definition therefore the current model can never build enough homes over time so it needs to change.”