Picture by Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Michael Gove threatens to strip councils of powers if they ‘delay or deny’ house building

Michael Gove has said there will be “no excuse” for not dealing with planning applications promptly under reforms set to be announced in a major speech today.

The levelling up, housing and communities secretary is expect to pledge that councils that “delay or deny” legitimate house building in their local areas will be stripped of powers over planning.

The Times newspaper reports that Gove will give local authorities three months to put in place plans to meet the housing need in their area. And if a council fails to follow the new rules, they could be stripped of their planning powers entirely.

Gove also told The Times that he will give the go-ahead to build “northwards” of 150,000 new homes around Cambridge as part of a major new expansion of the city. 

He also pledged to set up a review of London’s current housing plan to increase the supply of new homes in the capital with a threat to remove Sadiq Khan’s powers over planning if he does not agree to the changes.

Then, in a third commitment, he plans to force local councils to set aside land to be developed by small builders in an attempt to increase competition in the sector and reduce the dominance of large developers.

Speaking to The Times, Gove also recommitted to the government’s 300,000 annual housing target.

He said: “There is now no excuse for not having a [housing] plan in place and no excuse for not making sure that planning applications are dealt with in a timely fashion.” 

“There is no excuse for the arbitrary refusal of planning permissions. Delay, no. Denial, no.”

He added: “We’re going to be robust and rigorous in making sure that you deliver.”

“The argument that’s been made is we’re saying to local authorities, you can pluck any number [of new houses] out of the air and just use that? Absolutely not,” he said.

“What we will do is to give people an opportunity to protect that which is reasonable but strip away all of the unreasonable techniques that are used [by councils] to evade responsibility [for building new homes].”

Speaking this morning to Sky News, housing minister Lee Rowley admitted the government still has a “way to go” before it will hit its own housebuilding target.

He said: “We still have a way to go in terms of hitting the 300,000, but we have made substantial progress towards it.

“We have built the best part of 2.5 million houses over the past 13 years.”

A source at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: “We have been clear that the government is on the side of the builders and not the blockers – councils must play their part and deliver the homes this country needs, without concreting over the countryside.

“The housing secretary has already told councils that they need to step up, and we are providing a lot of support to help them do so — so those that continue to drag their feet can expect to face government intervention.”

Deputy Labour leader and shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner said: “Michael Gove’s latest announcement is truly through the looking glass.

“Despite all this tough talk, he and Rishi Sunak have stripped away every measure that would get shovels in the ground and houses built to appease their backbenchers.

“We simply can’t be expected to believe that the government will take the steps necessary to get the homes built that Britain desperately needs.

“The Conservative government has sent housebuilding into crisis, with rock-bottom rates of planning permission decisions, spiking interest rates and housebuilding set to plummet.

“The devastating impact of this government’s reckless decision to abolish local housing targets will have real consequences for housebuilding rates across England, threatening to lock a generation out of getting a secure home of their own.”