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James Parker assesses the likelihood of government U-turns on planning and housebuilding.

Given the seemingly endless set of challenges coming at Liz Truss, seeing her recently lose Kwasi Kwarteng to replace him with another doomed Chancellor trying to square an impossible economic circle, there’s one big question. Shouldn’t we be suspicious of someone who really seems to relish the job of Prime Minister at the moment?

Or perhaps we should just marvel at her courage, in the face of perhaps the worst set of factors ever to greet a new PM.

How is it all going to end, and is it likely to be sooner rather than later in her case?

And what shreds of certainty should housebuilders expect in the short-term.

It’s the season of U-turns, so perhaps that’ll be the fate of the much-vaunted planning reforms coming from Housing Secretary Simon Clarke later this autumn?

Maybe something of a ‘rebalancing’ in house prices is overdue, to help those on the lower rungs clamber up the ladder

James Parker James Parker Editor of Architect’s DataFile and Housebuilder & Developer

Time for a rebalance?

First, to appease opposing factions of her party, Truss somehow has to cut taxes, while giving millions the support they need through one of the most demanding winters the UK will face.

Capped average energy bills of £2,500 remain a big jump for many families and individuals – bills will still be 96% higher than last year. Panic is going to be common among those who are simultaneously seeing their mortgage payments jump, as the interest rates continue to escalate to try and curb inflation.

Maybe something of a ‘rebalancing’ in house prices is overdue, to help those on the lower rungs clamber up the ladder.

However, there’s likely to be considerable collateral damage, and a big welfare bill, if prices do crash. Inflation is showing little sign of slowing, and the independent Bank of England is determined to curb it.

Deregulate for growth

Truss’ optimistic growth plan relies on ‘supply side reforms,’ to boost business productivity and GDP, and the big one (apart from fracking) is deregulating the planning process.

Having an impact in every constituency – if the planning reforms genuinely open up development in the green belts as well as brownfield – they could be the scene of the most conflict.

The industry knows that ‘green belts’ are often far from green, and are simply the ‘edge of a town.’

However, try telling that to the locals; the planning reforms are codenamed “Rolling Thunder’ in Tory HQ, let’s see just how much lightning there is too.

The leafy shires react

The Tory leadership vividly remembers the Chesham and Amersham byelection, where their candidate was booted out by irate former Conservative-voting residents up in arms at the spectre of their Buckinghamshire properties plummeting in value thanks to new developments.

It wasn’t just a ‘mutant algorithm,’ it was really just the outcome of a more liberal approach to development, which the nation’s leafy shires really haven’t grappled with yet.

The planning reforms (allegedly coming soon), might be where Truss and co really need to do some surgery on ‘hearts and minds.’ Or if not those ephemeral areas, something more prosaic, in the pockets of disgruntled voters.

The problem is, if Liz Truss doesn’t survive long-term, will her successor pick up the baton? Or will, as ever, a new administration mean reinventing the planning reform agenda, and reiterating the problems yet again rather than solving them? If you thought you knew uncertainty, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

And lastly, It’s probably a good thing the 300,000 homes target has been quietly put to one side, but I can’t get behind the rumoured wholesale scrapping of biodiversity targets, ‘nutrient neutrality’ aims, affordability, and the more beneficial EU rules, if that’s what Clarke has in store.

James Parker is editor of Architect’s DataFile and Housebuilder & Developer