With repeated by-election humiliations in places such as North Shropshire, Chesham & Amersham, Tiverton & Honiton and now in Yorkshire and Somerset adding to the terrible local election results in May, the government appears to have concluded that house building in rural areas is both undeliverable and unpopular.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has said that the government will “unequivocally, unapologetically and intensively (be) concentrating our biggest efforts in the hearts of our cities”. Passionate advocates of urban renewal and developers alike will welcome this clear statement of intent albeit they will worry that putting all your eggs in one urban basket will not solve the country’s housing crisis.
To deliver the volume of housing required, warm words will need to be backed up with both tangible reforms to the planning system as well as resources invested in regional bodies to provide enabling infrastructure. It has long been recognised that outside of London poor infrastructure has been a major drag on economic growth, it is one of the key reasons why the UK’s major cities struggle to compete with the likes of Munich, Milan, Lyon and Barcelona.
The Midlands is well positioned to support the government’s ambitions on house building. Birmingham, for example, has already shown that it can build partnerships with developers and government bodies to deliver substantial and transformative projects. Even if those projects have faced serious delivery challenges. The West Midlands Combined Authority has been at the forefront of the government’s agenda in the region and has shown that large scale rail, metro and brown field remediation can unlock huge schemes such as Perry Barr or along the western corridor towards Sandwell and Wolverhampton.
The expectation from developers will now be that both the scale and geographic spread of the levelling up agenda increases substantially. The newly created East Midlands Combined Authority covering Derby, Nottingham, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire will be another fantastic opportunity for growth in the region.
By retreating from green belt and green field development the government may be reacting pragmatically to the political circumstances it finds itself in, but critics will argue it is also storing up problems in the already overheated ‘family home market’.
Regardless of the policy direction the Midlands will be key to delivering on the government’s housing plans, but brownfield and city centre developments are not an easy short cut as they still require substantial political and community support. There are often legitimate local concerns over quality, affordability, and design. These concerns should not be dismissed by developers. Careful stakeholder engagement as well as high quality design are key to unlocking these sites.
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