The Government's 25 year plan to improve the environment ("A Green Future") was published yesterday. Most of the talk in the media has been about plastic recycling. Less noticed is the section on house-building.
The plan sets out four broad objectives:
- All house-building to have net environmental gain.
- No increase to overall burden on developers
- Protect and enhance the Green Belt.
- The target to build 300,000 houses a year by the mid 2020s is retained.
Let's take them one by one.
Net environmental gain
"Net environmental gain" is not well defined, but the plan is to make it mandatory (more or less). It will also be strategic, flexible and locally-tailored. Which is nice. The net gains will include biodiversity, flood protection, recreation, water quality and air quality. Higher standards for new builds will ensure homes have reduced demand for water, energy and material resources. They will also minimise overheating and encourage walking and cycling.
No additional burdens
The plan will achieve all this without putting any additional burdens on developers, including small developers. Local authorities will mandate all these gains. By doing so they will reduce "costs, complexity and delays for developers". Exactly how this will work is not made clear.
Protect and enhance
The plan promises to both protect and enhance the English Green Belt. It seems unlikely this means stopping Green Belt release (something that would drive a coach and horses through the Government's house-building plans). More likely the intention is to continue to protect Green Belt unless it is released. Perhaps ways will be found to designate new Green Belt or improve the quality of current Green Belt land. It's not entirely clear though.
Finally, none of this reduces the Government's house-building target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s.
The report is produced by Defra, with forewords by Theresa May and Environment Secretary Michael Gove. It's not clear to what extent the newly-named Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was involved. The only mention of the new department is under the "Actions we will take" section and says:
Working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see how our commitments on green infrastructure can be incorporated into national planning guidance and policy.
That doesn't sound like the new Ministry has been heavily involved, or possibly even consulted!
Few would argue with the objectives. Has Michael Gove has really found a way to achieve all those environmental improvements while at the same time "reducing costs, complexity and delays for developers"? I've no doubt the house-building industry will be eagerly waiting for more details.