Will Gove junk Jenrick’s planning ‘reforms’ or can we expect more of the same: builders and developers first, locals a very distant second?

Hills near Abbotskerswell, Devon “IMG_8005” by Lamerie is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Robert Jenrick, the MP for Newark and former housing minister, lost his cabinet post under something of a cloud, after being caught failing to declare a secret meeting between himself and a clutch of property developers in the Enterprise Forum. He was clearly not entirely happy with his demotion, firing off a thinly veiled slingshot in the direction of his successor, Michael Gove, that the Conservatives will be “letting the next generation down” if they fail to deliver reforms to “build the homes WE need.”

And by “we”, one supposes he meant Barratts and Bovis and the other for-profit, ticky-tacky estate builders who need homes for their bottom line, and who swallow up gorgeous green spaces like giant fishing dragnets tear up ocean beds.

These companies achieve their objective when dubious local councils are courted and orchestrated to help create fake demand surveys, and illegally obstruct objectors from having any voice at planning meetings… It’s those objectors, in fact, who are the real locals and who would, unsurprisingly, prefer to continue to live in the rural surroundings they purchased or grew up in, rather than the urban blight these policy decisions deliver in practice, as villages are enclosed and devoured.

This process merely imports urban commuters, prepared to sign up for mortgages, that soon – with the coming stagflation – they won’t be able to afford anyway. This way lies increased homelessness, poverty, cronyism and madness – especially in a contracting economy, with falling life expectancy suggesting a decrease in demand for new homes is likely, rather than the other way around.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with supplying affordable homes (which are not predominantly those being built, by the way) and where real local need exists. But why not build on brownfield sites? Concreting over quality farmland and beautiful rolling hills, like the thneed manufacturers in The Lorax, most certainly isn’t responsible planning, but rather corruption and base devil-take-the-hindmost insensitive profiteering.

A village with, say, 60 children, frankly doesn’t require 2000 homes to service their needs! Everyone can do that maths. And it wouldn’t be so terrible if they built real communities with a beating heart, and real amenities for that community, but they don’t. It’s just slab after slab of tiny-gardened, residential concrete widget semis and terraces, designed for lowest possible cost and maximum profit. And they most certainly are not future-proofed, from a climate emergency perspective.

Community need doesn’t get even lip-service. I have no faith whatsoever that Jenrick’s successor Michael Gove will act responsibly or ethically and do the right thing by the environment. However, in terms of realpolitik, he may have to have something of a care for the potential for electoral fallout, from protest voters backing independent councillors and MPs. If the rape and pillage by corporate laissez faire-ism (essentially unregulated planning) continues to hold sway as a consequence of these developers’ courtship of quisling ministers, there will be political consequences…