Housing minister Lee Rowley has insisted the government has “got to have targets” for building homes – despite ministers dropping the ambition.
In its 2019 manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to build 300,000 new houses each year by the mid-2020s if it got into power.
But the figure has never been achieved, and in December 2022, Housing Secretary Michael Gove confirmed it had been watered down after a backbench backlash – which saw Tory MPs threaten to vote against their own party’s pledge in the Commons.
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Last summer, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended the scrapping of the target, saying Tory members, activists and councillors expressed “no support” for “nationally imposed, top-down set of targets… telling them what to do”.
It led to Labour’s then shadow levelling up secretary, Lisa Nandy, accusing him of putting party before the country.
But appearing on Sky News this morning to discuss the government’s latest housing policy, Mr Rowley sounded much keener for a set figure.
The minister – who in November became the 16th housing minister since the Conservatives took power in 2010 – told Kay Burley: “We’ve got to have targets. If you haven’t got targets, there’s no way to [make progress].”
Sky News has now been told by a source at the Department for Levelling Up that “no housing targets have changed”, and ministers still plan to “meet our ambition to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s”.
A source close to Mr Gove also insisted the main target “remains”, adding: “We just provided flexibilities to councils.”
Meanwhile, the government is planning to force councils in England to prioritise developments on brownfield sites, telling them to be “less bureaucratic and more flexible” over policies causing barriers to building.
The bar for refusing brownfield plans will be made “much higher” for large councils failing to meet locally set targets.
And as a result, ministers hope it will increase the number of homes being built, as well as protecting the green belt.
Mr Sunak said: “We pledged to build the right homes in the right places – protecting our precious countryside and building more in urban areas where demand is highest. Today’s package is us delivering on that.”