Government experts to help under-resourced planning departments, says McVey

The government is set to create an "A-team" of experts to go around the country and help support under-resourced local authority planning teams, the housing minister has said.

Housing minister Esther McVey at the ConservativeHome fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference
Housing minister Esther McVey at the ConservativeHome fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference

Esther McVey made the comments on Sunday at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event organised by the ConservativeHome website and industry body the National House Building Council. 

She said: "Something that will be coming forward is [addressing] the amount of bandwidth within local authority planning departments. Have they got all of the resources there?"

McVey said some authorities were struggling to produce a local plan "because they don't feel they've got the wherewithal to do it". 

She said: "We are now going to have a sort of 'A-team' that can go out and help all of those authorities who can't quite do it.

However, she said the number of councils struggling to produce a local plan was "getting smaller and we are helping with this A-team that can go round the country".

In March, McVey's predecessor Kit Malthouse said the government was considering a "helicopter" model, whereby senior planners would be made available at a regional level to local authorities dealing with particularly large or complex applications.

Elsewhere at the conference, McVey said the goverment was focused on making sure infrastructure would be provided to support new housing and that it would be in place before any new homes are built.

At another ConservativeHome fringe event later on Sunday, co-hosted with trade body the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), she said: "When I speak to community groups and go to open meetings, they want to make sure the infrastructure is in first before the homes. 

"I think the public are actually very pragmatic. They're happy for homes to be built as long as it fits in with their local environment and the infrastructure is there."

She also said she wanted to see housebuilding "go through its own industrial revolution" in the shape of modern methods of construction.

McVey said housebuilding has "never been industrialised" in the way that production of cars, mobile phones and televisions have been. 

"But these new modular builds are incredible," she said.

Also speaking at the same event, Bryan Berry, chief executive of the FMB, which represents smaller developers, said: "Our members would pay more money to speed up the planning process. 

"We need to look at the under-resourcing of planning depts to speed up development." 

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