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Tensions over housebuilding plans

6 September 2012

8:56 AM

6 September 2012

8:56 AM

This morning’s big housebuilding announcement was aimed at unblocking obstacles in the planning system to get development of new homes and extensions going. But it hasn’t unblocked tensions within the government. The main controversy is over whether to relax the quotas for affordable housing within each new development, and The Times reports that Nick Clegg and Eric Pickles were at loggerheads with George Osborne over the idea.

This morning, Downing Street announced that developers can bypass a council’s affordable housing requirements if they feel they make a site commercially unviable. The claim is that this will release 75,000 new homes currently stuck behind this barrier. There are various measures to mitigate the drop in the number of affordable homes delivered through this route, including guaranteeing housing association debt, and £300 million to build 15,000 affordable homes and to bring 5,000 empty homes back into use. When he appeared on the Today programme, Clegg insisted that ‘the net effect of all these proposals, let me be very clear, is more, not less, affordable homes’.

Clegg will also be mindful that building more homes of any tenure is better than not building any new homes at all. The change that could cause the biggest split, though, is any move towards allowing councils to build on the green belt. George Osborne said at the weekend that he wanted councils to use existing rules to mimic Cambridge by swapping bits of land here and there, but any further details on green belt development have not yet been released today. There will be a month-long consultation on the new measures announced today: that consultation paper could well contain the measures that irk many more MPs than just Clegg and Pickles.

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