London construction building city centre

More city centre homes given the green light by Gove

Building homes where they are needed the most will include changing planning rules to create more city centre housing, according to the latest pledges from housing secretary Michael Gove.

The government is planning a major push towards creating more city centre homes in England, with the intention of making it easier for developers to gain planning permission to convert shops, takeaways and betting shops into residential property.

In what has been described as a “positive start” towards addressing the country’s housing issues, Gove’s latest speech in London promised that the government would “unequivocally, unapologetically and intensively concentrating our biggest efforts in the hearts of our cities”.

The secretary for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities also said: “We want to make sure everyone who wants to own their own home can do so, but it’s important we do that in the right way and that means building houses in the right places with the support of local communities and not concreting over the countryside.

“We’re making it easier for people to expand homes upwards and outwards, we’re making it easier to build on brownfield sites with more investment and we’re investing in the planning system.”

The idea behind the city centre focus is not new, with a consultation on similar ideas having been launched back in 2013. Now, the government has pledged to invest £24m to train planning authorities, and £13.5m to pay for a “super squad” of planners to move certain projects forward.

City centre changes

The concept of the city centre has certainly seen a level of change over recent years, with the Covid pandemic and lockdown life creating a sudden surge of people leaving the city centre in favour of more rural areas or the commuter belt.

While this trend caused demand to swell in certain parts of the country away from the city centre, it wasn’t long before appetite returned, although in some ways what people were looking for had altered. For example, the idea of space – both shared and communal – is now more important than ever.

Gove alluded to these changes in his speech, describing the government’s city centre plans as “urban regeneration and a new inner city renaissance”, which will also help towards “underpinning [the] long-term plan for economic recovery”.

“Renaissance because we want to ensure that our cities have all the ingredients for success that we identified in our levelling-up white paper last year as the Medici model,” he added.

Increasing the number of opportunities in the city centre, both to rent and to buy, could help to fill this returning demand, although some are wary of the latest plans.

According to a BBC report, the National Housing Federation has described the proposals as a “positive start” but “nowhere near the scale of ambition that is needed”.

The government must deliver

Meanwhile, Paula Higgins of HomeOwners Alliance, said: “You don’t have to go back very far to unearth previous attempts to reform the planning system to encourage house building.

“In 2020, Robert Jenrick announced reforms to protect green spaces while making it easier to build on “brownfield land”. No one can argue with this, but we need to see the government deliver.”

Nathan Emerson, CEO of Propertymark, believes that while the plans to reform the housing market are “a step in the right direction”, the government must go “faster and further” in order to provide the homes the country needs.

“Avoiding a fragmented approach is key, as well as having housing targets that are linked to tenure to meet the demand in different areas across the country,” he said.

“Housing reforms must also reflect societal change, help tackle the climate emergency, involve the tax system, meet the needs of older people and ultimately provide more affordable options, whilst protecting the green belt.”

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