Michael Gove has accused developers of “manipulating” rules and creating “ugly” homes with “poor quality” materials as he pledged to shake up the planning system.
The housing secretary warned that the government would use “all our powers” to force builders to create more community-friendly schemes.
Gove was reappointed to his role at the helm of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities three weeks ago, having been sacked from the post by former prime minister Boris Johnson in July.
“The argument you sometimes see is that planning reform is dead […] that the government has given up on changing our dysfunctional planning system – not at all,” he declared yesterday.
In a speech at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Growth, run by right-wing think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies, Gove said there were five reasons for resistance to “the development this country needs”.
He listed these as a lack of beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environmental consideration and neighbourhood – pointing out that those terms formed the acronym BIDEN.
On democracy, he said: “Some of the big developers manipulate the way plans operate, manipulate the presumption in favour of sustainable development, so a community finds a democractically adopted plan is overwritten by the way the Planning Inspectorate and current legislation works.”
Loss of green space and wildlife, and the impact on the climate, was another stumbling block for new homes, the minister said, and required addressing.
On beauty, he said: “The experience of many first-time buyers is that the incredibly expensive homes they buy simply are not fitted out to the standards they should be – there are far too many faults and defects.
“But more than that, so many of our volume housebuilders use a restricted pattern book with poor quality materials, and the aesthetic quality of what they produce is disappointing and not in keeping with the standards that already exist.
“Communities do not want ugliness imposed on them. We will unveil a series of policies to improve the quality and particularly the aesthetic quality of new development.”
A new infrastructure levy would ensure that developers used more of their profits from a scheme to fund health, school and transport improvements, Gove added.
Lastly, he warned that too many new homes were built without a sense of community. He cited the Poundbury development in Dorset, backed by King Charles when he was the Prince of Wales, as an example of what we should strive for.
“It is controversial, people say it is pastiche, a misty-eyed architectural vision, old-fashioned – that’s all rubbish,” said Gove. “The thing about Poundbury is it has beautiful homes, you can’t tell which homes are owned and which homes are for rent, and also there are the green spaces, shops, pubs, village halls that make it feel like a community.”
The Office for Place, which was set up last year to improve design standards, would be given an “explicit brief to help planning authorities and councillors to better understand the importance of design”, he said.
Gove warned that the country couldn’t meet the level of demand for new homes without working with “the private sector and the volume housebuilders”.
But he added: “It is often the case that those who lead these organisations use kinks and loopholes in the system to sometimes evade the responsibilities that government central and local would like to place on them.
“We have a series of propositions to ensure that, with the adoption of local plans that work, it will become more difficult for developers to wriggle out of responsibilities.”