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Feeling the heat: Gove on the stove over NPPF changes


The changes to the NPPF will not boost housebuilding.

If you’re looking for a more detailed summary of the changes, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. If this is you, now is your chance to perform a Gove-like U-turn and head over to LinkedIn – where you can feast until your heart’s content.

Instead, I’m taking a look at the political ‘impact’ of yesterday’s announcement.

Those with a passing knowledge of planning and housebuilding policy won’t have been fooled by what was revealed. Gove managed to generate more spin yesterday than Muttiah Muralitharan achieved in his prime.

In fairness, there were a couple of headline-grabbing points with the Cambridge Development Corporation and criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s failure to deliver enough homes. Recognising Cambridge’s potential as a global leader for life sciences, and providing the homes to support this ambition, should be welcomed, although one can’t help but feel a little hard done by if you have an interest in Oxfordshire.

Looking at things in the round, most of what was announced will do little but hurt the delivery of more homes. And if supply doesn’t increase, Gove suggested he and the Government will simply hide behind high interest rates, rather than recognising the bigger, structural problem at play.   

But was it a case of ‘job done’ for Gove? As my colleague Emma Tasker was swift to point out, Gove has a track record of burying controversial announcements a la West Wing’s ‘take out the trash’ week, and hopes most people won’t notice. He spoke well and fielded questions posted by the press and the industry with relative ease. He’s a comfortable performer.

The thing is, damage limitation is in vogue for the Tories at the moment, and all that will achieve is a landslide defeat in next year’s general election. Even the usually Tory-friendly Times is backing Labour’s current stance on housing delivery.

Seizing the debate would give them at least a chance of reducing the 20-point or so deficit in the polls. What have they got to lose? Adopting a ‘wait and see’ strategy, rather than tackling the day’s big issues is not likely to move the dial.

As we call time on 2023, there is some hope for next year.

Labour has said it will reverse the NPPF changes on ‘day one’, should they win the election. It’s true more detail is needed on how they’ll deliver on their ambition to get Britain building again (wait for the manifesto), but the sentiment is promising.

While Gove may not be feeling the heat from the right of his party for the time being, he and the Tories will still be very much in the hot seat when the election comes around.

But for now, rest up, sit back, relax and enjoy the Christmas break.

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