Giving Homes England the power to acquire land, masterplan and grant planning approval offers a glimmer of hope for scaling up housing delivery.
Housing and levelling up secretary Michael Gove’s speech earlier this week focused on elevating the government agency’s role to one similar of the development corporations of the 80s.
He was critical of London’s mayor Sadiq Khan’s failure to build the 52,000 new homes a year which the capital needs.
“We’re planning to intervene using all the arms of government to assemble land, provide infrastructure, set design principles, masterplan over may square miles and bring in the most ambitious players in the private sector to transform landscapes which are right for renewal.”
He said his ambition was for an eastward extension along the Thames in line with Michael Heseltine’s original vision for the area. Docklands 2.0 would regenerate Charlton Riverside and Thamesmead in the south and the area around Beckton and Silvertown to the north.
“Tens of thousands of new homes can be created. Beautiful, well-connected homes and new landscaped parkland are integral to our vision and all sympathetic to London’s best traditions.”
Mr Gove said he would reserve the right to step in and reshape the London plan if necessary and consider every tool in his armoury including development corporations.
He has asked Homes England chairman Peter Freeman about how to develop the agency so it can deliver regeneration on par with Stratford’s Olympic village in east London.
“One that can develop the masterplan, enforce high quality design standards, acquire land, approve planning and work with developers,” said Mr Gove.
“We’ll be working with other great cities to ensure that we have the development vehicles and the ambition necessary for further regeneration. And in each case, we want to use the planning and tax levers provided by our new investment zones to help drive activity.”
Cambridge was singled out for a seven-year expansion plan to create new lab space, green spaces, cultural centres and beautiful neighbourhoods. Mr Freeman has been appointed to head up the £5m Cambridge Delivery Group.
Rural areas need housing development too
The National Federation of Builders, NFB, housing and policy head Rico Wojtulewicz said: “Homes England could enable the much-needed spatial planning that has been absent in England for many decades and put the UK on course to compete with European nations such as Germany.”
Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said commercial finance lenders would welcome a more strategic approach for key sites.
But the Federation of Master Builders, FMB, was critical about Mr Gove’s policy to concentrate on building new homes in cities.
FMB chief executive Brian Berry said: “The Government’s focus on urban areas needs to be balanced with the need to address housing shortages in our rural communities.”
Homebuilders Federation chief executive Kate Henderson on BBC Radio 4 described the government’s approach as piecemeal.
“We need to have a much more ambitious plan. We cannot meet our housing need just by building in towns and cities.
“We need to think about building in rural areas too and it’s about the most sustainable places for growth.”