Coffee House

Nick Boles is ballsy, but his planning push faces some big blockages

10 January 2013

6:18 PM

10 January 2013

6:18 PM

Nick Boles is to be applauded and rewarded for being so ballsy on housing need. It is heartening to read the minister describing current housing shortage as ‘immoral’ and a ‘threat to social justice’.

I could write a long post about why Boles’ latest push for more homes (which involves a ‘Boles Bung’ of money that communities can use for their own benefit in exchange for new local housing developments) is wonderful, and how he should win all sorts of political prizes and promotions if he succeeds, but I’ve already done that. Instead, it’s worth examining the tricky problems which will mean the Planning Minister needs to keep wearing his thick skin in order to get the 250,000 new homes a year that Britain needs built.


The first problem comes, as you might expect, from the Treasury, which in effect runs a mirror structure of each Whitehall department, with its own officials examining CLG policy. This can make meetings between departments and the Treasury rather awkward, as officials from the latter frequently have their own ideas, and shoot down suggestions from the arguably more experienced CLG staff. This has been a source of frustration to ministers over the past two and a bit years, and this evolutionary leftover from the controlling Brown years will continue to cause Boles problems.

The next is that CLG itself is now utterly terrified of upsetting the NIMBY lobby with any suggestion that large numbers of homes are going to appear on their green fields. Boles’ plan is a very good step towards resolving communities’ reluctance to see new development, but there is a more hardened lobby beyond those who feel a little uneasy about their own back yards. This includes MPs who are terrified of any encroachment on greenfield sites, regardless of whether they have much greenfield in their constituency. There would be a significant revolt in Parliament if any legislation proposing this were to appear.

This face-off between ministers and anti-development Conservatives highlights a very important fault-line in right-wing politics which affects reforms other than planning. There are those free market Conservatives like Boles, or like the leading Tory-aligned think tanks, and then there are those conservatives with a small ‘c’ whose instincts are guided by the importance of conservation, whether it be a view from their window or an institution. In the same way as Labour clashed with its natural voters who wanted it to take a harder line on welfare and immigration, the Tories will always clash with this chunk of their supporters when they try to spread privilege by building more homes.

This week’s row over benefit cuts underlined how important Boles’ work is: this government would not be having to find more and more ways to shave bits off the welfare bill and particularly the ballooning housing benefit bill if successive regimes had managed to get a grip on housebuilding. This is another reason why Labour’s position on the benefit cuts is particularly frustrating: even when the sun was shining, they failed to build sufficient roofs when in government. The importance of Boles succeeding cannot be exaggerated, not just so that individuals can benefit, but because of the long-lasting effects on the size of the state of finally solving the housing crisis.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • ben corde

    Let’s make a start by building a few in your back garden then. Squeeze a few more immigrants in. Wouldn’t you just love that. Only UKIP will stop this madness before we have an urban sprawl from coast to coast.

  • Alex

    Blimey, immigration obsessives are persistent aren’t they.

    Anyway, in my town we have a perfect example of the problem, with a shortage of brownfield sites and a local conservative MP who is fighting any greenfield development. The idea that the pleasant rural town, surrounded by countryside, would be ruined by turning one field into housing is ludicrous, but I am guessing that local NIMBYs are the root cause.

    One idea might be to incentivise support; could council tax rebates be given dependant on new developments going ahead? After all, it would provide more revenue for the local council.

    • Daniel Maris

      Talking about a pleasant rural town surrounded by countryside suggests you don’t understand the realities of mass immigration and the effects it is having in London and the south. There’s nothing obsessive about being concerned about a policy no one has voted for but which is likely to increase our population to 75 million on official estimates, and probably much higher in reality – with all the consequences that entails. You might be shielded from these realities wherever you are, but take it from me. mid to long term, you can’t be shielded from having your capital city the focus of such an unrelenting influx.

  • dalai guevara

    This discussion about development of greenfield sites is such a red herring IMHO. Housing in the UK is much more about overall densities in urban areas, which is comparably low to Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, Paris, even Athens.

    Now, if our intention is to resolve a housing shortage, preserve the countyside, reduce commuter times etc, then we need to build more densly in urban areas, especially London – three storey Camden or four storey Primrose Hill is frankly a joke. Did you know that Berlin sports seven storeys throughout its urban grid?

    But then there is this other issue, the actual issue of the number of units completed in recent years. It is frankly outrageous to claim wanting to push development, only to expectedly encounter the highest levels of opposition when we figure where this is supposed to be happening, whilst simultaneously falling short of two hundred and seventy two thousand units since 2010. Yes, 272,000 units less than envisaged – I haven’t made this up, this data is from the government’s own in-house think tank: policy exchange.

    • Daniel Maris

      Well I think we can have a meaningful debate about how best to provide housing for our people once we have put a stop to mass immigration into London and the South (remember “net” migration is a useless figure since emigration from the UK is more even across the country than immigration).

      Until we do, the debate is pointless because there isn’t going to be anything to preserve and we won’t be able to provide a good standard of housing.

      So, having said that, I would agree with some of what you said e.g. for a big conurbation, a lot of London’s housing is quite low rise. There would be no harm in creating incentives to building higher.

      I think a requirement on local communities to actually produce an additional say 3% residential units would be good.

      But we need a much more imaginative approach.

      We need a specialist agency to convert our dying shops quickly to residential; we need a plan for faster commuter links where this makes sense.

      We need to reclaim land from the sea in the south.

      We need to create gardens in the sky in urban areas.

      • dalai guevara

        There is no shortage of housing. Not for the indigenous, not for foreigners.

        What we have is a shortage of finance and once some finance is in place, an affordability issue. The next generation (without an inheritance) simply cannot afford to jump onto that ladder. This is an ever-increasing section of society, why does it matter where they are from? Portillo is from Spain, Milliband from Germany, and your surname does not sound Anglo Saxon to me either…

  • Patricia Lester

    I do not understand why derelict industrial sites and other ‘brown field’ areas cannot have the money spent on them to provide housing and at the same time make a clean living area in which people and their families can live. AND it would also help housing if Pension Funds could invest in residential property – especially small ‘self administered pension funds’ – it is, as someone else has said about getting mortgages. BUT we could not get mortgages when we were newly married – none available on older houses and strict guidelines about income (not taking into account the wife’s earning or only a small proportion) – so think it through properly before you give the odd farmer, land hoarder vaste sums of money to destroy our countryside or local authorities who are selling off playing fields at huge profit to developers who have useful ‘connections’.

    • Daniel Maris

      If you are talking about London, I can explain the reason: the sites are being developed. The problem is the sheer number of people moving into the capital from abroad (not a racist point – I am including white South Africans, Russians, French, Portugese and others who form part of that influx). London has been effectively deindustrialised. Nearly the whole of the riverside is now developed and the latest developments go to very wealthy semi-tourists from abroad (particularly Russia, China and other Asian countries). Take a look at Google Maps, you’ll see it’s virtually all offices, retail and housing now – v. few derelict sites. The green areas are much needed for recreation in a city of 8 million or whatever and unbuildable upon for various reasons.

      • dalai guevara

        I must disagree – the City of London still sports some of the lowest density housing of any metroplis of its size – thirty storey NY for crying out loud, but even seven storey Berlin are far more densly developed than London. Entire areas to the East or North or South, anywhere, are standard two storey semis – with a tube station close by! Which other city on the planet has such a low density housing whenever you exit a tube station?

        The issues of London could easily be avoided by:

        1- knocking a lot of the old low quality rubbish down, frankly (I know, often not feasible)
        2- planning and constructing higher density housing in the centre
        3- decentralising national institutes and institutions, courts, FTSE listed HQs, Whitehall backroom functions, media (Salford providing much needed relief).
        4- upgrading the national transport infrastructure to facilitate better connectivity from the periphery to the centre, and vice versa.

        • Daniel Maris

          Low density is not brownfield which was the subject of the discussion in this part of the thread (as raised by Patricia Lester).

          You’re saying people will have to be turfed out of their homes? Go ahead and try…

          PS You’re obviously not a Londoner otherwise you’d know the difference between the City of London and the city of London.

          • dalai guevara

            London is bursting out of its seems. Increasing density and decentralisation are the answer. It is that simple.

            You claim a metropolis should not attract foreigners – that is an utterly ludicrous position to take, the opposite is true to make it work.


    Why is it not surprising that the Spectator is all in favour of immigration fuelled housing without ever mentioning it!

    Today we learn that Leicester, Luton and Slough all have minority white British populations already, not mentioning London which has gone the same way. Yet Hardman’s response is only and always to say how wonderful it is that we need to build more houses to cope with the tidal wave of immigration.

    Somehow I still feel disappointed at the deceit being perpretrated on us by the Spectator.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes, sadly it is a deceit. It would not be a deceit if they said “for whatever reason we favour a policy of (effectively) open door immigration into this country and are happy to take the consequences be they a 100 million population, multiculturalism, reduced per capita GDP or negative pressure on services. ” That would be honesty.

      I can’t myself think why conservatives or Conservatives would want to support mass immigration given it threatens everything they hold dear in the long term. That is the puzzle. It would be interesting to solve it but neither Mr Nelson nor Ms Hardman nor indeed hardly any of the pro mass immigration advocates are prepared to say why they favour it or to answer detailed questions about their advocacy.

      Why can’t Conservatives adopt Sir Andrew Green’s sensible proposals set out in Migration Watch, at least?

  • Franklin_Delano_Roosevelt

    Taxation should be used to drive investors out of property.
    My town is full of empty and derelict property owned by speculators so we have to build on green belt.

  • andagain

    there are those conservatives with a small ‘c’ whose instincts are guided by the importance of conservation, whether it be a view from their window or an institution.

    I wonder how many of those people got onto the property ladder a long, long time ago. Somehow, I suspect that people renting are more likely to see the advantages of someone being allowed to build an actual house.


      It is irrelevant to me where housing is being proposed. It should not be allowed anywhere that is not brown field until actual immigration is massively reduced and repatriation is instituted. At the end of this year we can expect another couple of million East Europeans.It is madness to be building homes just to accomodate them.

      • Daniel Maris

        Yep, we need throttle off mass immigration. Allowing greenfield development will simply be another green light.

        We need to get out of the EU, withdraw from the refugee treaties, bring in infrastructure taxes for net immigrants, stop arranged marriage immigration, stop immigration by people not competent in the English language and stop immigration by anti-democrats eg. supporters of Sharia law.

        • andagain

          I wonder why so many people think that right-wingers are all racist authoritarians.


            How is it racist to not wish my own culture and heritage to be overwhelmed by other cultures? Where has race been mentioned other than by you? It would seem that YOU are the racist. You would not seem to believe that British culture and the indigenous British people have much value and can be swept away in the name of some other project.

            The UN describes that as ethnic cleansing.

            Why is it that so many leftists are all in favour of ethnic cleansing? Hitler, Stalin, Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg. The list goes on.

            Strange that those who wish to preserve our ancient and valuable civilisation find themselves abused by such as you. You reveal much about yourself.

            • andagain

              I take it that you genuinely cannot see how anyone could honestly suspect you of racism?

              • Daniel Maris


                I’d like to ask whether you are prepared to adjust to the culture of other people who move here. Many Muslims are working to introduce Sharia into this country. Do you support that or not?

                • Daniel Maris

                  …and answer came there none.


                  Will Isabel, as someone with a background in housing, return to respond to the comments she has invited on her post?

                • Daniel Maris


              • ArchiePonsonby

                Your typical left-wing tactic of branding anyone who doesn’t agree with your particular world-view as racist is SO last century! It doesn’t work! We’ve seen through it and we’re not afraid anymore! So just fuck off back to the Guardian, there’s a good cretin!

          • Daniel Maris

            (a) I’m not right wing, as many people here will tell you and (b) I’m not racist.

            Concern about culture is perfectly valid, if it isn’t then Welsh Nationalists, Quebecois, Irish Nationalists, Scottish Nationalists, and Catalan Nationalists are all racist.

            Most sensible people around the world see that some cultural cohesion is necessary for societies to succeed. It doesn’t have to be a rigid monoculturalism but it has to be built around a common core culture and incomers need to sign up to it.

            • andagain

              Most sensible people around the world see that some cultural cohesion is necessary for societies to succeed.

              But they don’t all use that as a justification for banning people from building a house on their own property at a time when house prices and rentals are at record highs.

              If you and coffeehousewall want to obsess about immigration and drag it into every discussion about politics, then fine. But don’t be surprised when people start to conclude that you look like a BNP supporter. After all, they would do that, too.

              • Daniel Maris


                Such non-arguments are beneath contempt.

                Are you seriously maintaining that mass immigration is not the primary factor in the current housing crisis in London and the South East (the huge increase in prices and rents, and the terrible shortage in housing now)? Or the reason why we are having to find 75,000 extra junior school places in London in one year (that about 200-300 schools!)? Or the reason we are having to throw huge amounts of money at the transport infrastructure? Or the reason we have to pay for 14 Female Genital Mutilation Clinics on the NHS?

                If you want to obsess about race and drag it into every discussion about politics, then fine. Don’t be surprised when people start to conclude that you look like a Sharia supporter. After all, they would do that, too – use racism as a boo-word to prevent discussion of mass immigration and the parallel Sharia state being built in this country.

          • fantasy_island

            Me too, why is that?

  • Alaric

    The way to deal with Nimbyism is to respect the community and give them something in return (not the local council). 75% of the acreage of large developments should be dedicated common land in perpetuity, so far as possible enclosing the housing. Houses then more desirable, locals gain real open space not just views, downward pressure on development land prices.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    It’s supply and demand. But the supply of mortgages is the limiting factor, not the supply of houses. If there was money, the people who build houses would build houses, they don’t need interference. It might help if non-builder types, actual people, could get permission and build on plots of one or two houses. Build two, sell one, move in, free another house elsewhere. A policy of building rabbit hutches because they are good enough for plebs is not required, nor is the con trick of affordable housing.

    • andagain

      If there was money, the people who build houses would build houses, they don’t need interference.

      Only if they can get planning permission. And the whole point of the NIMBY lobby is to stop anyone frfom getting that.


        I don’t want vast estates of houses built anywhere in England. It’s not NIMBYism it is a desire to retain our culture and heritage for our own people. The only pressure for housing is caused by immigration. Until we do something about immigration we will be conned into tarmacing over every field.

        • Teacher

          Totally agree.

    • rob dawson

      well said 🙂

  • Russell

    Boles needs to ask these NIMBY’S who live in beautiful little ‘model’ English villages if they would like their villages knocked down and the land returned to Green fiels status, (either the wild or farming land), as it was before their houses were built forming their village.
    A few additional houses built in character with that of each village, in every village in England would allow many thousands of new houses which are desperately needed to be built, and not need massive new infrastructure to be built.


      Homes are not desperately needed, apart from to serve the needs of the tidal wave of immigration that is drowing us all. But this will never be mentioned by the Spectator.

    • Teacher

      I agree but I would want my children to occupy them. where, then, are you going to put all the others?

    • Tony (Somerset)

      I live in a “new” village in the countryside – there are many houses here that have been on sale for many months with no buyers. The obvious answer is that the prices are incorrect – in which case the developers building the new estates will also have to slash their prices massively – I just can’t see this happening.

    • rob dawson

      here here … its about time Boles & Co kicked the back sides of shoddy planning depts `

  • In2minds

    Boles, even less popular than Balls?

    • ArchiePonsonby

      Bolesy, perhaps?

  • Noa

    “…this government would not be having to find more more ways to shave bits
    off the welfare bill and particularly the ballooning housing benefit
    bill if successive regimes had managed to get a grip on housebuilding…”

    Did you not mean “…get a grip on immigration?”

    • davey12

      No point voting Tory, just delay us being a minority. I will be voting UKIP. 5 mores years of Labour and by 2020 we will never see a Tory government again. Bye-Bye guys.

      I will never buy anything made in this country.

      I will try use foreign companies.

      I will holiday abroad.

      If I win the lottery I will become a tax exile immediately.

      The sooner we run out of money the better.

    • telemachus

      How can you turn everything into immigration?
      You are in fact plain wrong
      Immigration has a net economic benefit which includes boosting the economy to promote investment in housing
      Should you not return to The Ukip pratts only read news site?


        You really are as stupid as you sound. Quite difficult to accomplish but you manage it day after day.

        • telemachus

          You administer the heinous EDL site

      • Noa

        Demonstrably and malignly wrong, But your constant idiotic presence does have the benefit of providing us with an ever handy top of the page guide to why we are in the dreadful position we are.

      • davey12

        Of course it helps the economy. We need more houses to turn into hostels to house all the immigrants as cheaply as possible. Because they want to go home with as much as possible.

        The more that come means more houses which means more jobs more jobs means more immigrants more immigrants means more houses more houses means more jobs more jobs means more immigrants more immigrants means more houses… On and on..

        Voting UKIP never ever vote |Tory, Labour or Liberals, ever, ever, ever, again.

        Fed up voting for extremists.

  • Daniel Maris

    Here we go – the Spectator again banging the drum for spoliation of our countryside and all for what reason? …why, to facilitate unsustainable mass immigration, currently running at 400-500,000 per annum.

    Boles’ views are contemptible, unpatriotic and will only lead to generalised misery and

    certain defeat at the polls for the Tories. Why he supports the ruination of our rural communities I don’t know, possibly there’s something weirdly Freudian going on as his father used to head up the National Trust – can’t imagine he’d have been v. pleased with his son’s ideas.

    Perhaps Ms. Hardman you can explain whether you think there is ANY point at which mass immigration and the consequent pressure on housing and land becomes insupportable and we take action to stop it? When the inflow surpasses a

    million? When the population reaches 100 million?

    Why not tell us that rather than writing trivial puff pieces for a failed third rate politco.

    • Daniel Maris

      Just to note: Ms Hardman wouldn’t deign to give us her reasons for favouring mass immigration and as a result paving over the countryside. Never expect a Speccie writer to explain such things. After all…Neathergate and all that…


        The Spectator writers very rarely deign to respond to the comments here. But then it is plain that the only reason for the comments are to generate page views to sell advertising, which is why, despite claims to the contrary, trolls are facillitated here. The more disturbance they cause, the more likely it is that people will keep visiting the pages.

        Its not about balanced conservative blogging, or about respect for comments. It is just about page views.

        • Daniel Maris

          LOL – I always wondered why they bothered with comments, since they were rarely with a few honourable exceptions, interested in them. Now I know. Thanks.

      • Teacher

        When people lack good facts, evidence and ideas to pursue their points they resort to abuse. When the Labour party wanted to silence its opponents it called any opposers ‘racists’ or ‘rich’ or ‘sharp-elbowed’ etc. and now the opponents of concreting over our beautiful country call the responsible conservers of the common heritage ‘NIMBY’s.

        • Daniel Maris


  • Tom Tom

    I favour MPs paying Tax on second homes and those funds being paid into the Housing Benefit coffers. Actually, we don’t need extra houses – only in Britain is house size getting smaller with dolls house furniture because condos are being disguised as detached homes. I favour new style housing with central underground car parking and no garages. In fact I think it is time house designs were laid down and priced and builders told exactly what a house will cost. At present they are regarded as 40% overpriced when newly constructed with fast-growing Brazilian pine and assorted other cheap materials. Also they should be built on 100 year rule so any new construction must last at least 3 mortgage cycles since it is doubtful some modern construction would be standing at the end of a 25 year mortgage.
    I have some really interesting ideas for building firms including a Land Tax on their land banks say like an Inventory Charge of 30% per annum

  • Paul Turnbull

    As the Telegraph questioned today, is pushing down house prices (even in real terms only) politicly wise? Of course it’s not. The opposition from key voter groups will be fierce, never mind the influential lobbyists and party donors who’ll be extremely angry.

    All this talk of more house building and the threat of reduced property prices will be gone within a month. Neither will materialise.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Young lass, I realize it’s oh-so-clever and cool, but if you and the other Speccie teenagers ever want to be taken seriously, and you’re not right now, then you’ll have to learn to write without the “ballsy” type of adornments.

    It works fine in a comments section, at times, but never above the line. I’m sorry to have to jar you with this type of information, but it is a necessary exercise, trust me.