The Government will make it easier for shops to be turned into houses as the Prime Minister insisted she is “determined” to tackle Britain’s housing crisis.
Following a speech setting out how ministers hope to boost house-building, Theresa May revealed closed-down high street retail units could be converted into residential properties.
Although the Prime Minister pointed to “protection” for UK high streets among Government action, she highlighted how “retailing is changing as more and more people buy goods online”.
“One of the elements of the new planning rules we are setting out is to make it easier for shops to be turned into housing, if that’s appropriate, but also for development above retail units to take place,” Mrs May added.
“Often, there’s a very good argument for having homes being developed in the centre of a town, accessible to shops, accessible to transport infrastructure as well.
“And enabling greater extensions upwards can be, I think, one of the solutions for ensuring we’re building more homes.”
The Prime Minister also denied she had been a nimby (an acronym for ‘not in my back yard’) for previously objecting to a scheme by developer Berkeley in her Maidenhead constituency.
Mrs May said Government changes to planning rules are “about building the right homes in the right places”.
“The planning process is a process which ensures that developments, that proposals for developments, are looked at properly,” she said.
“Yes, I have opposed a number of developments in my own constituency.
“I have also, for what it’s worth, supported a development that took place on a green belt site which had previously been built on.”
The Prime Minister rejected criticism of her housing policies from Local Government Association chair Lord Porter, who insisted it is “completely wrong” to blame councils for a failure to build more houses.
“The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided,” he said.
Ahead of the Prime Minister’s speech, the Tory peer also claimed the planning system is “working well” and “is not a barrier to building”, as he demanded councils are granted more freedom to borrow and invest in order to build houses themselves.
However, Mrs May insisted the Government had “already done something about it” and increased the borrowing cap for certain councils.
She said: “That was a message the Local Government Association gave to us and we responded to it.
“But, as we look at what we need to do in terms of getting more homes built overall, what we need to see is this as is an issue that needs to be dealt by us all.
“So, Government plays its part, local government will play its part, developers, planners, this is something we all need to come together to address.”
The Prime Minister used her address to an audience in east London to warn developers she will “not rule out any options” in tackling a gap between granted planning permissions and the number of homes being built.
She said: “The bonuses paid to the heads of some of our biggest developers are based not on the number of homes they build but on their profits or share price.
“In a market where lower supply equals higher prices that creates a perverse incentive, one that does not encourage them to build the homes we need.”
:: Sky Views: Why we should celebrate housebuilders
If we want more houses, we have to build them, not plan them. If we want cheaper homes, we have to build them, not plan them. MHCLG need to push back agains HMT or the nonsense will go on and nothing will change. Less homes built next year than there were this year.
— Gary Porter (@garyporterlga) March 4, 2018
The Prime Minister added she wants to see “planning permissions going to people who are actually going to build houses, not just sit on land and watch its value rise”.
Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “We’ve heard hand-wringing on housing from Theresa May before, but there’s nothing new here that will make a difference.
“After eight years of failure, it’s clear this Government has got no plan to fix the housing crisis.
“Home-ownership has fallen to a thirty-year low, rough sleeping has more than doubled and the number of new homes built for social rent has fallen to the lowest level since records began.”
Earlier, Lord Porter had posted on Twitter: “If we want more houses, we have to build them, not plan them.”
He also suggested the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government needed to “push back” against the Treasury or “the nonsense will go on and nothing will change”.
Last year, Chancellor Philip Hammond rejected a suggestion from Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid that the Government could borrow billions of pounds to invest in hundreds of thousands of new homes.
Tory backbencher and former planning minister Nick Boles described Lord Porter’s assessment as “spot on”, adding: “We cannot wait for our dysfunctional house-building industry to build the homes we need.”