Tory MPs criticise ‘worst of all worlds’ England planning system changes

A aerial view of Leverstock Green, near Hemel Hempstead (Steve Parsons/PA)
A aerial view of Leverstock Green, near Hemel Hempstead (Steve Parsons/PA) - (Copyright PA Archive)
15:15pm, Thu 08 Oct 2020
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Theresa May has led fierce Tory criticism over controversial planning system changes which could see big increases in building in rural areas.

The Conservative former prime minister attacked the Government’s house-building and planning reforms for England as being “ill-conceived” and warned it “flies in the face” of their levelling-up agenda.

Meanwhile, fellow Tory Bob Seely (Isle of Wight), whose backbench motion requesting the new housing algorithm is not introduced until a debate and “meaningful” vote have taken place in the Commons was supported by MPs, accused the Government of “concreting out” rather than levelling up if they push ahead with the reforms.

The Government has said the plans are still part of a consultation.

Speaking in the Commons, Mrs May said she agreed that more homes need to be built but called on the Government to “think again” as its proposed algorithm does not guarantee this happening.

Theresa May (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA) - (Copyright PA Wire)

She told MPs: “We need to build more homes, the Government is absolutely right about that.

“We need to level up across the country, the Government is right about that too.

“But the problem with these proposals, the problem with this algorithm on housing numbers, is that it doesn’t guarantee a single extra home being built and, far from levelling up, it forces more investment into London and the South.

“This is a mechanistic approach and it is ill-conceived.”

Mrs May added: “So I say to (Housing Minister Chris Pincher) that I think that one of the strongest arguments, if not the strongest argument against this new housing algorithm, and I would have thought the Government might have abandoned right now, but the strongest argument against this algorithm is that it simply does not deliver a single extra home.”

She continued: “What this algorithm does is build up planning permissions, it doesn’t build houses.”

Mrs May also told the Commons that the planning proposals do not deliver the Government’s manifesto promise of levelling up across the United Kingdom.

“What this new algorithm does, as regards to levelling up, is flies in the face of the Government’s flagship policy.

“So my point is simple, these proposals do not deliver on Government policies.

“The Government needs to think again and come back with a comprehensive proposal to this House for a proper debate and, dare I say it, a meaningful vote,” Mrs May said.

Bricklayers - (Copyright PA Media)

Tory Mr Seely earlier warned the reforms could “hollow out our cities” and “urbanise our suburbs”.

He told MPs: “I support levelling up 100% but, broadly speaking, the danger in these new targets in the way they’ve been shaped is that the biggest housing increases will be to rural shires and suburbs, and the biggest falls are in the urban north and Midlands.

“The worst of all worlds would be to hollow out our cities, to urbanise our suburbs and suburbanise the countryside and yet I fear that is what we may accidentally be achieving.

“That is not levelling up but is concreting out.”

A slew of Tory former cabinet ministers lined up to call for a rethink, with Jeremy Hunt insisting: “The argument for building new houses has been won but what is on the table risks eroding local democracy, reducing affordable housing and encroaching on our beautiful countryside.

“The Government must think again.”

Damian Green, a Tory MP for the Kent constituency of Ashford and Mrs May’s former deputy, added: “We are in danger of turning the Garden of England into a patio.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Chris Grayling told the Government he could not support the housing algorithm, claiming the approach is “wrong”.

Mr Grayling, MP for Epsom and Ewell, said: “The reality is if we go ahead with a housing approach of the kind the Government is setting out in this algorithm, what it will do is it will continue to suck economic growth, the brightest and best people in our society and opportunity into the south-east of England – exactly the opposite to what this country actually needs to achieve.”

Housing minister Chris Pincher assured MPs that their concerns would be reflected on “very carefully”.

“I am especially mindful that honourable members are concerned about geographic imbalance – concerns about too many homes in the South and not enough in the Midlands and the North.

“Equally, I recognise anxieties about what these changes might mean for our countryside in contrast to our urban areas.

“I want to reassure the House that through this consultation process we are committed to addressing any supposed imbalances,” he said.

Concluding the debate, Mr Seely said: “Get this wrong and we do a great deal of harm, and I’m not just talking politically, but environmentally, economically, socially. Get this right and we can do a great deal of good.

“I do not think we are there yet and I hope this Government will take that on board.”

Sign up to our newsletter