Report comes ahead of first speech by new housing secretary, as fellow cabinet minister says party ‘looking again’ at proposals

The new housing secretary Michael Gove is reported to have ordered a “complete rethink” of the government’s planning reform proposals, in advance of his first major speech in the role later today.

The report came as Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden used his speech to the Party’s conference in Manchester to spell out that the party is “looking again at our planning reforms”.

The Times reported that Gove’s rethink of the reforms in last year’s Planning White Paper included ditching proposals to limit councils’ powers to stop new developments in their areas.

The paper also said he wanted to “make housing companies pay more to local communities to improve amenities in areas where development takes place”, albeit the white paper’s Infrastructure Levy proposal was already designed to gather as much or more in developer contributions as are already captured in the current system.

It has already been reported that Gove planned to pause the controversial reforms - which had been widely blamed for the Party’s shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

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Dowden (pictured left) said the Party had “the wisdom to listen to people and the humility to learn how we can do better.

“That’s why we are looking again at our planning reforms.”

The Planning White Paper published last August had proposed introducing “area-based”planning in which councils would be forced to allocate “growth areas” in which outline planning consent was conferred via local plans.


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The paper also proposed ditching the section 106 system and replacing it with a nationally-set Infrastructure Levy, and impose mandatory centrally-set housing targets on local authorities.

Dowden also said the government would now look to “set out in law measures to protect our towns, villages and precious countryside from being despoiled by ugly development”, advising conference-goers to “watch this space”.

The government has already reformed national planning policy, via the NPPF and planning guidance, to make it easier for councils to refuse schemes on design grounds, alongside publishing the National Model Design Guide and National Model Design Code.

However, Dowden’s comments imply the government is considering going one stage further by introducing legislation to the same ends.

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Gove (pictured right), who was a close friend of the conservative philosopher and “beauty” advocate Roger Scruton before his death in 2019, is also reported to have told fringe events at the conference that development should be based around streets and follow traditional “human principles”.

He also criticised the use of steel and concrete by developers in favour of more traditional materials, saying these materials “favoured by developers” often had higher embodied carbon.

The Times said “departmental sources” had told it the planning reforms were likely to be far less radical than previously anticipated, and would instead be just a “tidying up exercise” of the present rules.

>> See also: Planning reform: Time to clean up