Housing minister says plan for one million homes by 2050 ‘not government policy’

The government has dropped a target to build one million homes in an arc of development between Oxford and Cambridge, stating the plan for the region will be focused on economic growth and jobs instead.

Speaking in Westminster Hall debate on the so-called Oxford-Cambridge Arc this week, housing minister Chris Pincher said the one million homes target for the area, proposed in a National Infrastructure Commission report in 2017, was “not a government target and it is not a government policy”.

Aerial view of Milton Keynes

Source: Cranfield University

Milton Keynes will be a focus for development in the Arc

Pincher made the assertion despite the fact the government in 2018 said, in its official response to that report, that it “supports the National Infrastructure Commission’s ambition to build up to one million high quality homes by 2050”.

His comments come amid a growing backlash against government proposals to reform the planning system, which are thought to have contributed to the party’s surprise defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, a constituency covered by the arc.

Pincher told the debate: “I have always been at pains to express that this is not about housebuilding; it is about economic development of a very large region for jobs, skills and the transport and other infrastructure required to build the hopes and opportunities of the people who live there. It is about housing too, but housing is not the central thrust of what we are trying to achieve.

>> Analysis: Backbench and voter revolt suggests it’s time to reform the reforms

 “When I hear talk from the chamber of one million additional homes, points that were made in a report of some five years’ standing, I reply by saying that is not a government target and it is not a government policy.”

While Pincher said more homes were needed in the area, he stressed that the local plan processes in those areas would determine the overall number of houses to be built, adding: “I think the only way that we can put to bed or break open this particular secret is to keep repeating the point that one million homes is not a government target.”

In May’s local elections a series of council leaders who had been supportive of the Ox-Cam Arc plan were unseated, including in Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, amid a concerted campaign of opposition to the proposals.

The anti-development No Expressway Group, formed to campaign against the road plan that had been a central element of the arc scheme, but which has now been dropped, claimed after the elections that its campaign had been decisive in these local results.

Last summer the new unitary council of Buckinghamshire unilaterally withdrew itself from the arc plan, in favour of its own growth proposals.

Conservative MP for Wycombe, Steve Baker, who secured the debate, said opposition to the homes was understandable given that the arc process had been driven entirely from the top down. He said: “Two months ago, communities in Chesham and Amersham notably sent this message in a startling by-election result.

“The point is that the government are taking a top-down approach in imposing the arc, and they seem to be doing so without the effective engagement of the people in the area. Those people are pushing back, and quite right, too.

Baker added that “where candidates have run on an anti-arc platform, local authorities have flipped from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, including several authorities in Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire, and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority”.

However, Pincher said the government remained committed to the Aarc as a focus for economic development, and said that a long-awaited spatial framework for the area would be published “very, very shortly”.