Could Jenrick be forced to water down yet another reform?

By Ruby BurdettConsultant 

The MHCLG’s proposal for a standard algorithm to calculate housing need has sparked much criticism. The former Prime Minister, Theresa May, seems to be spearheading the fight to urge the Government to re-think the reform. After voicing her concerns in a debate motioned by MP Bob Seely, it seems Theresa May has influenced a number of her fellow MPs not to toe the party line.    

Analysis suggests the new algorithm will impose higher targets in less affordable areas, mainly in Tory held areas in the south. However, a three per cent target decrease has been predicted in mainly Labour held cities in the north. In Theresa May’s constituency Maidenhead, the algorithm will impose a 21 per cent housing target increase, which easily explains her opposition. 

In practice, there are some real consequences to the algorithm. Conservative critics have stressed the negative impact the algorithm will have on suburb areas. The main concern is the possibility of mass low quality and high-rise development which will threaten the countryside. Tory MP, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, warns that unregulated development may create the ‘slums of tomorrow’. The Government have stressed that homes will be of a high quality, but neglect to show how this will be enforced.    

As the algorithm is likely to see some reductions in housing targets, the housing needs in some areas risk not being met. Manchester for example is predicted to produce 31per cent less homes a year under the new algorithm. Diminishing housing priority in areas such as this when the goal is to ‘level up’ seems counterintuitive, especially when the housing industry injects hundreds of millions of pounds into the local economy.   

Conservative MPs are struggling to comprehend how the Government will achieve their goal of ‘levelling up’ if cities such as Manchester are predicted to stagnate. Theresa May backed this motion in parliament, doubting the algorithm’s ability to assess where housing is needed, she argued it would not see any extra homes being built.   

The onslaught led by Theresa May seems to have been successful in convincing the Government to re-think the algorithm. Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick has hinted at a turnaround on the planning algorithm. Seeking to appease the fears of Conservative MPs, himplied that the Government is prepared to compromise. This is not the first time Robert Jenrick has been forced to amend his proposals due to pressure from the backbench. 

While Jenrick has agreed to compromise on the algorithm, he made clear the Government remains firm in its goal to build 337,000 homes a year. If the algorithm is to be reviewed as suggested, it will be interesting to see what strategy the Government will propose to reach this goal.