Housing and construction bodies criticise lack of detail in long-awaited white paper

Housing and construction sector bodies have warned Michael Gove’s levelling up white paper does not provide enough clarity and ambition to achieve its aims.

The paper, published yesterday afternoon, sets out 12 “missions” to level up the United Kingdom and reverse decline in some parts of the country.

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The paper proposes allocating the bulk of a previously announced £1.8bn brownfield fund towards regenerating 20 places, including Wolverhampton and Sheffield, along with changes to ensure a higher proportion of housing grant goes to the north and midlands.

Ministers are pledging that by 2030 every part of England that wants one will have a London-style devolution settlement. Other missions to be met by 2030 are around research and development investment, employment and productivity, public transport connectivity, broadband availability, education, skills, life expectancy, well-being and crime.

However, while the broad principle of levelling up and focusing on regeneration was largely welcomed, many questioned whether the plan was ambitious enough and queried the lack of detail about how the 12 missions will work in practice.

Ben Derbyshire, chair of HTA Design and a Housing Today columnist, said: “The electorate will be quick to see through short term, inevitably superficial, re-allocations of cash with only transient outcomes.

“Regions, towns and cities targeted by this policy have seen cuts that the existing £10bn commitment in no way restores – and the similar sum written off over wasted PPE spending puts the investment into perspective.”

Derbyshire added that communities “must have a say in plan-making and development management, as part of the process.”

Mark Sitch, senior partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore said “a plan for just 20 towns and cities does not match the level of ambition we had been led to expect given how long it has taken to prepare and publish the White Paper.”

He said: “Now is the time for genuinely collaborative spatial planning and wider regional strategies. The 12 new ‘missions’ may go some way towards this, but there needs to be more emphasis on joining things up within and between regions. We must look at investment in terms of people, homes, jobs and infrastructure all being connected to deliver the maximum potential benefits to communities.”

Thinktank and councils’ membership body the Local Government Information Unit said “it is not clear what Gove’s devolution proposals really amount to”.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of LGIU said: “In the end, perhaps inevitably, the long-awaited  levelling up white paper doesn’t quite rise to its own challenge.

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“It sets out an analysis of the causes and impacts of regional economic disparities and proposes 12 missions to address these challenges. These give some clarity to what levelling up means, contain social as well as economic dimensions and have measurable metrics for success.

“It’s far less clear how these missions will be accomplished. The structural reforms to local government and the specific policy measures announced feel piecemeal and, in the main, familiar. “

A spokesperson for the Home Builders’ Federation said barriers to levelling up need to be tackled first in order to make the policy a success.

He said: ”Housing can play a key part in levelling up but there are a number of constraints that need to be addressed. Local authorities need support and guidance to fix a planning process that currently takes far too long, involves too much risk and stifles the chances of small builders to compete. Government also needs to ensure the increasing regulatory burden doesn’t make sites, particularly in the north, unviable.” 

Andrew Jones, cities programme leader of Aecom said: “While 2030 is setting the stall out for a long term plan, it doesn’t go far enough to recognise that we need a generational strategy if we are to truly level up the country – the UK is currently the most socially and economically unbalanced nation in Europe. “

Jones also said “cash-strapped” local authorities will need support to make the case for and deliver new schemes.

He added that to connect people to the best training and employment opportunities levelling up needs to focus on “high quality, mass rapid transit in all city regions and large towns that is integrated with clean, affordable buses and safe streets to walk and cycle”.

Simon McWhirter, director of communications, policy & places at the United Kingdom Green Building Council, said the white paper is a “missed opportunity” to tackle poor housing.

He said: “A major national home retrofit programme is urgently required to insulate Britain’s left-behind areas from soaring gas prices, and to create tens of thousands of green jobs exactly where they’re most needed.

“Equally disappointing, is that the paper is silent on how government intends to support the two thirds of UK households which are owner-occupied, which need to upgrade their draughty, cold homes”.

Some London-based housing providers warned that London’s housing challenges should not be forgotten in the drive to focus funding into the north and midlands.

Geeta Nanda, chief executive of the G15 group of housing associations in London, said: “For levelling up to live up to its name and to support the prosperity of the entire country, we cannot see the life chances of people living in London levelled down.”

Olivia Harris, chief executive of Dolphin Living, said: “While we very much welcome the government’s continued focus on housing delivery as a key part of its levelling-up agenda, and the bold steps taken around the introduction of the Decent Homes Standard across the private rented sector, we are very concerned that the white paper fails to address the critical housing challenge being faced by London. “London’s economy is fundamental to the success of the UK and central to that is the role the city’s crucial key workers play in making that happen”

Clare Miller, chief executive of Clarion Housing Group, said she welcomed the ambition of the government “to help some of our least affluent places”. However she added: “For the government to succeed we would like see more support for the charitable, community and voluntary organisations with existing networks in these places, to ensure that ‘levelling-up’ is led by the community.”

Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy this afternoon criticised the white paper for its lack of new money, as funding for the major pledges had already been announced in previous budgets.

Nandy said: “This is a government in freefall, out of ideas, out of energy”, adding that the white paper contained merely “recycled watered down ambitions and none of it is new”.

Gove earlier said the govenrment’s “huge investment in infrastructure and regeneration will spread opportunity more evenly and help to reverse the geographical inequalities which still exist in the UK.”

Michael Gove’s 12 missions to level up the UK

1. By 2030, pay, employment and productivity will have risen in every area of the UK, with each containing a globally competitive city, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

2. By 2030, domestic public investment in research & development outside the South-east will increase by at least 40% and at least one third over the Spending Review period, with that additional government funding seeking to leverage at least twice as much private sector investment over the long term to stimulate innovation and productivity growth.

3. By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

4. By 2030, the UK will have nationwide gigabit-capable broadband and 4G coverage, with 5G coverage for the majority of the population.

5. By 2030, the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths will have significantly increased. In England, this will mean 90% of children will achieve the expected standard, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by over a third.

6. By 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every area of the UK. In England, this will lead to 200,000 more people successfully completing high-quality skills training annually, driven by 80,000 more people completing courses in the lowest skilled areas.

7. By 2030, the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest will have narrowed, and by 2035 HLE will rise by five years.

8. By 2030, well-being will have improved in every area of the UK, with the gap between top performing and other areas closing.

9. By 2030, pride in place, such as people’s satisfaction with their town centre and engagement in local culture and community, will have risen in every area of the UK, with the gap between the top performing and other areas closing.

10. By 2030, renters will have a secure path to ownership with the number of first-time buyers increasing in all areas; and the government’s ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50%, with the biggest improvements in the lowest performing areas.

11. By 2030, homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime will have fallen, focused on the worst-affected areas.

12. By 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

Source: Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities