Five messages from the secretary of state at the Conservative Party conference

Five messages from communities secretary Sajid Javid at the Conservative Party conference, including an announcement of £2.5 million of capacity funding for nine garden town projects, and a pledge to be 'smarter' about capturing the land value uplift arising from the grant of planning approval.

Manchester Central: venue for Conservative Party conference
Manchester Central: venue for Conservative Party conference

1. The Tories must oversee a housing step change, or pay the price at the ballot box
Javid yesterday repeated a warning that has become a familiar theme on the conference fringe - that the Tories must take bold steps to tackle the housing crisis, or else Labour will benefit at the next general election. "This really is the biggest social challenge facing us today," Javid told a fringe session organised by the Conservativehome website. "I think it’s one of the overriding lessons of the last election results. If by the time the next election comes along, we haven’t made a huge step change and shown the country we have absolutely got it this time … then you better get ready to welcome Corbyn outside Number 10." In his main conference speech, Javid said that, "for decades, our planning system has failed to plan for the number of homes that we need", adding: "There has been too much control given to those who will never accept development."

2. The government must be smarter about land value capture
Javid told the fringe session that the government has "got to be a lot smarter about raising some of the funds for infrastructure from the development itself, by capturing much more of the value of the land, the land value uplift that comes across from when you give planning approval". He told delegates: "I don’t think we’re that good at it. Other countries have done a better job. We have a review of this, and you’ll be hearing more on it shortly." Responding to a separate question on the same topic later during the session, he added: "That needs a fresh look, because a lot more can be captured from that process and that can be used directly for more infrastructure locally."

3. Viability system is ‘too dark’ and lacks transparency
Javid faced a barrage of questions over the viability process, with several conference delegates arguing that developers are using the system to reduce their affordable housing obligations. Javid told the fringe session that there must be some flexibility in the system, pointing out that a fixed nation-wide affordable housing requirement would be "completely unviable" in some parts of the country. But he added: "I get it when people say that the system is too dark and it’s not very transparent about what the rules are and I think that’s worth another look." Later, he stressed again the need for flexibility in the system, but conceded: "I know this is a big issue with a number of local authorities. It comes up for good reason. I do accept there is this issue around how transparent it is and if the process is working well enough and we will look at it."

4. Tackle nimbyism by letting the neighbourhood have a say
On average, when neighbourhood plans have been adopted, "they have planned for 10 per cent more homes than they needed to", Javid told the Conservativehome fringe session. He added: "They have planned for more homes. That’s what you get when you let the neighbourhood actually have a say, rather than being nimbies, they say, 'Well actually, I’ll take some more homes to help my neighbourhood grow.'" The 10 per cent figure cited by Javid comes from government research published in 2015, which claimed that "plans for housebuilding are more than 10 per cent higher in the first areas with a neighbourhood plan as opposed to only the council’s local plan". The figure is regarded with scepticism by some in the development industry, partly because it based on a small sample.

5. Capacity funding boost for garden towns
Javid also used the fringe session to announce an additional £2.5 million of capacity funding for nine new garden towns. Details published later by the Department for Communities and Local Government said the funding will support the development of nine new locally-led garden towns at Bicester, Didcot, Basingstoke, Otterpool Park in Kent, Aylesbury, Taunton, Harlow-Gilston, North Northamptonshire and North Essex. It said that the cash would "fast track the build out of these large housing projects".


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