Conservative Councillors’ Association

On Friday 24 February, more than 170 Councillors, observers and sponsors gathered in Hinckley, Leicestershire for the Conservative Councillors Association. The numbers were less than hoped for, but this is likely to be due to a clash of events as the District Councils Network in St Albans coincided. The most senior figure attending was the Rt Hon Michael Gove. Other attendees included Hinckley and Bosworth MP Dr Luke Evans as well as Junior Ministers Lee Rowley MP (Under-Secretary for Local Government and Building Safety) and Felicity Buchan MP (Under-Secretary for Housing and Homelessness).

The annual conference began with some supportive words from the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. Whilst accepting that money was tight at present for local authorities, Gove reassured councillors that they were likely to get what they needed from Jeremy Hunt’s Budget on 15 March.

Gove also spoke at length about the current consultation on the NPPF and housing policy. As Secretary of State, Gove recognised that the provision of new homes was the key aspect of his brief at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Local Government. Yet, he emphasised the need for a home that is warm, decent, safe, and fit for purpose. He wanted to push an agenda of quality over quantity where Housing Association tenants would have the homes that they deserved: high quality, good design and good construction. These are essential for the family.

He added that for years, England has had a developer-led system. Yet some developers do not use the permissions that they have been granted. What is the point of having an agreed Local Plan if the local infrastructure is not fit for purpose?  On occasions, a Section 106 agreement was reached but the scheme may then be no longer viable for the developer. Many new homes are still poorly constructed, particularly if they are leasehold, then the people living in them are expected to pay high management fees to the leaseholder.

Gove emphasised that he wanted the final decision to be made by local councillors, not the Planning Inspectorate. Rather than housing targets being binding numbers, they instead should be viewed as guidelines. According to Gove, this will then protect the Green Belt and maintain the character of the local area. He also believed that developers should have certainty in the future, and there is an electoral dimension to this as well, which is local people taking back control of their area.

The following day, Minister of State Rachel Maclean MP spoke about her role as Minister of Housing and Planning. She acknowledged that she was the 6th Housing Minister in the last year but hoped she would have a clear run until the General Election of 2024. She spoke of the need to build new homes but not ugly homes and suggested that councillors look beyond NIMBY and focus on what their local community wants. Each Government is the temporary national – and local – custodian of the built environment, she concluded.