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Boris Johnson pledges new homes and planning reforms as UK ‘builds’ out of Covid crisis

Written by: Lana Clements
Boris Johnson has promised to “build, build, build” to kickstart the economy into a ‘new deal’ style recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of new homes and billions of pounds for infrastructure projects.

The Prime Minister compared his measures to former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s post-depression programme, as he pledged to build back a ‘greener’ and ‘more beautiful’ Britain after the coronavirus pandemic.

He announced an overhaul of the planning system to allow people to build better homes where they want to live.

Under new rules, property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties with a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

Existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, will be also be able to be converted into residential housing more easily.

It means builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

These changes are set to take effect from September.

New deal infrastructure programme

At the same time, around £5bn has been earmarked for infrastructure plans, with £1.5bn for hospital maintenance, £1bn for school building, £900m for ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects and £100m for roads.

Johnson added that too many parts of the country felt “left behind” and he wants to invest in new schools, new buses, and new broadband.

The prime minister said: “We will build fantastic new homes on brownfield sites and other areas that with better transport and other infrastructure could frankly be suitable and right for development, and address that intergenerational injustice, and help young people get on the housing ladder in the way that their parents and grandparents could.”

He also committed to reforest Britain by planting over 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.

However, critics said the amount of money promised by the government falls short of what is needed to kick-start building and the economy.

Ruth Gregory, senior UK economist at Capital Economics, said: “Prime minister Boris Johnson’s announcement today that £5bn (0.2 per cent of GDP) of spending on infrastructure projects will be brought forward into 2020 is fairly underwhelming and is unlikely to do much to help the hardest-hit parts of the economy over the coming months…

“This is simply a bringing forward of already-announced capital spending and it is hard to see this having any immediate positive effects on the economy. There is a limit to how quickly and effectively projects can be completed.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, agreed that more money is needed, especially for homebuilding.

She said: “Despite all the bluster about building new homes, the prime minister has today cut his government’s housebuilding budget by a third each year.

“It’s quite incredible that he thinks he can build more homes with less money. 

“With the housebuilding sector teetering on the brink, we need rapid investment but instead the government has slowed the Affordable Homes Programme for three years. This isn’t a new deal, this is a bad deal. Hundreds of thousands of new homes and jobs are at risk.”

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