The proposed planning reforms announced a year ago are officially being reviewed. In his speech to the Conservative party conference in October, the Prime Minister said that houses should not, after all, be built on green fields.
The decision reflects the swathe of discord emanating from within the Tory heartlands, where the fear of greenbelt land and the countryside in general being ‘desecrated by ugly new homes’ has caused areas of Buckinghamshire to turn their backs on the Torys.
Mr Johnson’s speech was characteristically flamboyant, but looking between the literary references and criticisms of the opposition, there are some indications of what he hopes one day to achieve.
Here are some snippets that impact on planning reforms:
“There may be underprivileged parts of this country, but Stoke Poges is not now among them. In fact, it was only recently determined by the Daily Telegraph … to be the eighth richest village in England.”
Stoke Poges is a small village and civil parish in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by green fields and 2.7 miles from Slough. Mr Johnson suggested residents of the village had a “constant anxiety that your immemorial view of chalk downland is going to be desecrated by ugly new homes.”
He said: “Since [Thomas] Gray elegized [in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard], Buckinghamshire has levelled up to be among the most productive regions in the whole of Europe. Stoke Poges may still, of course, have its problems, but they are the overwhelmingly caused the sheer lust of other people to live in or near Stoke Poges.”
He then turned to “levelling up”, saying it “works for the whole country … to take the pressure off parts of the overheating South East, while simultaneously offering hope and opportunity to those areas that have felt left behind.”
As an example of levelling up, he said “a few years ago, they started a school not far from the Olympic park. A new school that anyone could send their kids to, in an area that has for decades been one of the most disadvantaged in London. That school is Brampton Manor academy and it now sends more kids to Oxbridge than Eton.”
On Britain’s landscape, Mr Johnson said: “Go on google maps. You see how our landscape has been plotted and pieced and jigsawed together by centuries of bequests and litigation. A vast testament to security of title. The billions of loving and incremental improvements to homes and gardens. You can see how beautiful it is – vast untouched moorland and hills, broadleaf forests.”
He said the government would: “re-wild parts of the country and consecrate a total of 30 per cent to nature. We are planting tens of millions of trees, otters are returning to rivers from which they have been absent for decades, beavers that have not been seen on some rivers since Tudor times … are now back … (though the beavers may sometimes build without local authority permission).”
“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.”
Michael Gove has been appointed as the new housing secretary, with a remit to concentrate house building in the Midlands and North of England. Brownfield sites are notoriously more expensive to develop, but Mr Johnson did not suggest how brownfield regeneration would be funded under the planning reforms.
On home ownership, Mr Johnson said the dream of home ownership had receded over the last 20 years, but that the government had “not only built more homes than at any time in the last 30 years, we are helping young people on to the property ladder with our 95 per cent mortgages.”
Ever one to add a personal anecdote, he added: “there is no happiness like taking a set of keys and knowing that the place is yours. You can paint the front door any colour you like (as it happens I am not allowed to paint my own front door, it has to be black ) but I certainly don’t have far to go to work, and if you don’t have too far to go to work and the commute is not too dreadful, and if the job suits your skills, and your wifi is fast and reliable … that housing in the right place, at an affordable price, will add massively not just to your general joie de vivre – but to your productivity.”
“That is how we solve the national productivity puzzle”, he continued, “by fixing the broken housing market, by plugging in the gigabit, by putting in decent safe bus routes and all other transport infrastructure and by investing in skills, skills, skills.”
That, he said, was “how we help to cut the cost of living for everyone – because housing, energy, transport are now huge parts of our monthly bills. It is by fixing our broken housing market, by sorting out our energy supply – more wind, more nuclear, becoming less dependent on hydrocarbons from abroad – by putting in those transport links, that we will hold costs down and save you money and we will make this country an even more attractive destination for foreign direct investment.”
Read the whole speech here: Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed Conservative Party Conference 2021