Housing secretary hints at reworking of local housing targets and puts Investment Zones policy under review

Michael Gove has recommitted the government to its manifesto pledge to build 300,000 homes-a-year following uncertainty over the target given his predecessor’s pledge to abolish “top down” housing numbers.

The new housing secretary yesterday answered “yes” when asked by BBC journalist Laura Kuenssberg whether the pledge to build 300,000 houses each year in England, made in the 2019 election-winning Conservative manifesto, remained the government’s target.

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In addition, Gove, who was last week reappointed to the housing secretary role following Rishi Sunak’s appointment as prime minister, implied he was intending to reform and review the system for forming local housing targets.

Former PM Liz Truss had promised to abolish what she branded “Stalinist” top-down housing targets, albeit neither she nor her ministers were in post long enough to clarify whether that pledge referred to the overall 300,000-home national target, or the “standard method” formula for generating local council housing targets.

In answer to questions about the targets, Gove both committed himself to the overall 300,000 homes-a-year figure, and implied that some form of central formula for calculating local housing numbers would remain, even if in a “rebased” form.

He said: “The top-down housing targets that […] Liz [Truss] was referring to, are part of a broader and different calculation from the 300,000 in the manifesto.

We’re talking two different things here. But my view is that what we do need is a fair way of allocating housing need that takes account of changes in population. Some of the calculations that have been made in the past have been wrong, we need to rebase that.”

However, he added that development would only be allowed with local consent. He said: “We critically need to make sure that we have local communities consenting to development, and that means that homes need to be more beautiful, it means that we need infrastructure alongside them. But it critically also means that we need to make sure that the environment is protected as well.”

While Gove said the 300,000 figure remained a target, he did not commit to actually meeting it, as he said this was “going to be made more difficult because of the economic circumstances that we face.”

He said: “The cost of materials has increased because of the problems with global supply chains, and also a very tight labour market means that the capacity to build those homes at the rate we want is constrained.”

In addition, Gove said his department will now put the proposals for Investment Zones under “review”, because of the “concerns” sparked by the proposals to reduce environmental regulations. He said: “We’re also reviewing plans, which under Liz Truss were being brought forward, these investment zones, which understandably caused some concern.

“We’ll look at them, we will review them, but there is no way we’re undermining our environmental protections.”

Liz Truss’ government had promised to unleash a wave of development in Investment Zones across the country, which were to benefit from a raft of tax incentives and planning and environmental deregulation.