Local MP Andrew Griffith (left) speaking in the housing debate with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (right, CC BY Chris McAndrew )
In an interview with The Guardian, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick gave the clearest signal yet that he intends to ignore the concerns raised by people across Sussex about his department's new Planning proposals. The "mutant algorithm" - a term coined by local MP Andrew Griffith - would force Horsham District to build at least 1715 houses per year, more than twice its current target.
This firms up an earlier report in The Times (30 Aug) which claimed Jenrick was
"standing by plans to bring an algorithm into the heart of a new planning system, but does not rule out “tweaking it” to soothe anger on the Conservative back benches about its potential impact on the suburbs. "
CPRH submitted extensive technical comments on why the algorthm delivers the wrong outcomes for Horsham District, commenting that
The formula pushes a lot of the house building into the overcrowded south-east while reducing building in northern cities where it is needed. This is a perverse effect from using a simplistic definition of affordability. It is not consistent with the government’s agenda of “levelling up”.
Horsham District Council also submitted a robust critique of the proposals. There have been criticisms from environmental and community groups, housing charities and Conservative MPs alike. Andrew Griffith is one of several MPs to have spoken strongly against the planning proposals in Parliament.
At Prime Minister’s Questions last week Harriett Baldwin, Tory MP for West Worcestershire, said the government was “concreting down rather than levelling up” with Mr Johnson replying that he wanted to give young people the chance of home ownership “for the first time in a generation”.
Ironically, Henfield's Neighbourhood Plan, which would bring forward approval for 270 new homes to be built locally, is unable to progress because of Government coronavirus restrictions. CPRH has called for a postal ballot to be allowed and MP Andrew Griffith took up the case only to be rebuffed by the the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Government's new Chief Planner, Joanna Averley, says in her latest newsletter:
Earlier this year Neighbourhood Plan Referendums (along with Local Elections due to take place in May 2020) were postponed due to the ongoing pandemic, and this delay has been kept under review since. Cabinet Office has now confirmed that elections and referendums will not be brought forward until May 2021.
She also dismissed pleas by local authorities, including direct requests from Horsham, whose local plan has been disrupted by coronavirus:
We have been receiving anecdotal feedback that some local authorities may be considering pausing or slowing down the preparation of their local plan, in part due to the uncertainty of when the proposals outlined in “Planning for the Future” come into force. We would strongly encourage local authorities to continue in the preparation and adoption of local plans.
Protestations seem to be falling on deaf ears. Interviewed by The Guardian, Jenrick said
“If we’re going to address the very severe affordability issues being faced by young people in particular … that does mean significantly increasing the number of homes that we’re building as a country,” he said.
“And that will mean all parts of the country. I do think this has to be viewed as part of the moral mission of the Conservative
This doesn't seem to apply in the Prime Minister's own constituency, however, where a proposal to build 514 flats in his outer London seat of Uxbridge & South Ruislip has just been blocked by the Government. The Times reports that, in a letter sent to Mayor of London's office on August 20, Robert Jenrick's department ordered the mayor “not to grant permission on these applications without specific authorisation”.
One senior backbencher commented:
“Five hundred homes is a mere bagatelle in comparison to what Jenrick has inflicted on me. I hope that the prime minister’s track record means that he is prepared to look again at this planning algorithm.”
Phil Johnson, chairman of CPRH, summed up the feelings of many people saying:
"This 'mutant algorithm' echoes the Government's fiasco over the summer with the A-level algorithm. It penalises areas like Horsham that have been building a lot of houses and fails to deliver for those parts of the country that desperately need more homes. The Government has got it wrong again."
Add your voice to the argument. There is still time to comment on the Government's housing White Paper before the deadline of 29th October.
Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are those of CPRH and do not necessarily reflect those of Henfield Hub CIC.