Levelling up department to consult on proposals to clear hurdles for developers of brownfield sites in 20 cities

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has unveiled new policies aimed at increasing the supply of homes on previously developed land in England’s major cities. These measures come as the government faces pressure to meet its housing targets amidst a chronic undersupply of homes, rising rents, and homelessness.

The proposals include consultations on making it easier to obtain permission to build on brownfield sites in the 20 largest English cities, particularly if local authorities are failing to deliver enough housing. Additionally, there are plans to ease planning constraints for new extensions or large loft conversions in existing homes and to introduce legislation allowing more commercial buildings to be converted into residential properties without planning approval.

Gove emphasized that these policies are intended to address under-delivery of housing in key urban areas, where the need for new homes is most acute. However, some critics, such as Marc Vlessing of Pocket Living, question whether these measures will have a significant impact, describing them as mere tinkering.

The government’s target of building 300,000 new homes annually in England by the mid-2020s remains in place, despite last year’s net new dwellings remaining flat at around 230,000. Last year, the government relaxed rules around local housing needs requirements in response to opposition from anti-development Tory MPs.

Gove has prioritized building on brownfield sites, which are less politically sensitive than greenfield areas, but industry experts warn that fully utilizing brownfield land may not be sufficient to meet long-term housing demands.

Under the new proposals, planning authorities in the 20 largest English cities will be expected to follow a ‘brownfield presumption’ if housebuilding falls below expected levels, making it easier to obtain permission for development on these sites. However, developers will still face challenges in navigating planning regulations.

These policy changes are based on recommendations from a panel of experts reviewing London’s housing plans, with Gove extending the approach to other cities.

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