Both candidates seem likely to be pro-development Prime Ministers, by Richard Garlick

Firm policy commitments from the two remaining Tory leadership candidates have been thin on the ground.

So it is hard to say with any certainty what either a Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt premiership would mean for planning. But their track records provide some clues. 

Both men would seem likely to be reasonably prodevelopment Prime Ministers. In his early days, Hunt was a strongly localist MP who often fought local projects. But in recent years he has been more supportive of development. He has promised that, as Prime Minister, he would provide 1.5 million homes for young people, and he has previously backed HS2 and the extra runway at Heathrow airport.

Johnson has famously opposed the extra runway, but has also hinted that as Prime Minister he would abandon this stance. As London mayor, he generally had a reputation for being supportive of developers. In eight years in office, all his call-in decisions went in favour of the developer, and his affordable housing demands were smaller than his successor’s. Recently he has backed proposals to build more new towns in the South-East, and make planning policy more supportive of good design. Johnson’s newspaper columns, and high media profile, mean there is more easily available information about his thinking on these issues than there is about Hunt’s. In the last year, Johnson has used his Telegraph column to argue that it should be made easier for the under 40s to become housing owner-occupiers. In recent weeks, newspaper reports have suggested that, as Prime Minister, he would create a government infrastructure department and aim to boost the high street by making it easier to change the use of shops.

Whichever candidate wins will have to decide whether to pursue government policies initiated under Theresa May’s or David Cameron’s leadership. One of May’s parting gifts to her successor was her call last week for mandatory space standards for new homes. The policy would offer a new Prime Minister a way of halting the spread of cramped flats enabled by his predecessors’ expansions of permitted development rights, without requiring an explicit u-turn. But it could also make it harder for conventional housing schemes to compete for sites against high value projects such as student homes. Observers have commented that Johnson’s support of minimum space standards for London housing suggests that he would follow through on May’s idea.

Many of Johnson’s other publicly stated or rumoured priorities, such as improving design quality, backing new settlements and encouraging retirement housing, suggest continuation of existing government policies. But where both he and Hunt seem likely to differ from their predecessors is in taking a more relaxed view of government borrowing and spending. It seems that both are willing to take greater risks than their predecessors with the government’s long-term finances in order to cushion the impact of Brexit. Initially, at least, this may also mitigate to some extent the effects of Brexit on development.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // richard.garlick@haymarket.com


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