Rishi Sunak faces Tory rebellion on planning as MPs push to make housebuilding targets ‘advisory’

Rishi Sunak faces Tory rebellion on planning as dozens of MPs in leafy rural and suburban seats push to make housebuilding targets ‘advisory’ – but face wrath of backbenchers saying ‘politically insane’ plan would make housing crisis worse

  • More than 40 backbenchers sign amendment to the flagship Levelling Up Bill 
  • Would ban councils from applying housing targets in planning decisions 
  • Another would make it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land 

Rishi Sunak faces a significant rebellion on Wednesday as a hard core of Conservative MPs push for an end to mandatory housebuilding targets.

More than 40 backbenchers have signed an amendment to the flagship Levelling Up Bill that would ban councils from taking housebuilding targets into account when deciding on planning applications.

The amendment is one of several proposed by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers that would bring wholesale changes to the planning system, including making it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land and providing more incentives to develop brownfield sites.

But the proposal sparked pushback from within Tory ranks, with former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke saying it was ‘very wrong’ at a time when the number of new homes being built is ‘too low’.

‘I understand totally how inappropriate development has poisoned the debate on new homes in constituencies like Chipping Barnet (Ms Villiers seat), but I do not believe the abandonment of all housing targets is the right response,’ he said.

More than 40 backbenchers have signed an amendment to the flagship Levelling Up Bill that would ban councils from taking housebuilding targets into account when deciding on planning applications.

More than 40 backbenchers have signed an amendment to the flagship Levelling Up Bill that would ban councils from taking housebuilding targets into account when deciding on planning applications.

The amendment is one of several proposed by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers that would bring wholesale changes to the planning system, including making it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land and providing more incentives to develop brownfield sites.

The amendment is one of several proposed by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers that would bring wholesale changes to the planning system, including making it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land and providing more incentives to develop brownfield sites.

But the proposal sparked pushback from within Tory ranks, with former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke saying it was 'very wrong' at a time when the number of new homes being built is 'too low'.

But the proposal sparked pushback from within Tory ranks, with former levelling-up secretary Simon Clarke saying it was ‘very wrong’ at a time when the number of new homes being built is ‘too low’.

‘There are some serious issues we need to tackle, like the perverse ”nutrient neutrality” problem currently preventing perhaps 100,000 new homes from being built. That would ease the pressure elsewhere. 

‘But we also need to recognise the fundamental inter generational unfairness we will be worsening and perpetuating if we wreck what are already *too low* levels of housebuilding in this country. Economically and socially it would be disastrous. Politically it would be insane.’

Meanwhile 2019 Tory manifesto co-author Robert Colville said the proposed changes would ‘enshrine ”nimbyism” as the governing principle of British society’, and branded it the ‘Destroy the Planning System and Make the Recession Worse Amendment 2022’.

Ms Villiers’ supporters have insisted that they do not want to stop housebuilding, only give communities more say over where homes are built.

Bob Seely, MP for the Isle of Wight and one of the early backers of Ms Villiers’ amendments, said: ‘The system at the moment doesn’t produce housing.

‘The reason why we don’t have enough housing being built is because the planning permissions are given out – there are one million extant planning permissions – but the big oligarch housebuilders just sit on them.

‘The idea that if you give Persimmon permission for another 1,000 houses, you get 1,000 houses is delusional nonsense.’

He added: ‘We are not being nimbys. What we are doing is caring about our communities, caring about our environment.’

His comments echoed those by former cabinet minister Damian Green who, writing on the ConservativeHome website, said developers failing to build houses they had permission for was a bigger problem than councils refusing permission ‘because of pressure from hordes of nimby boomers’.

Support for the amendment scrapping housing targets has increased over the past week, rising from nine MPs on November 15 to 46 on Tuesday, including prominent figures such as former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former cabinet ministers Sir John Redwood, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Wendy Morton and Priti Patel.

This would be enough to leave the Government reliant on Labour votes to defeat the amendment, but Mr Seely insisted the move was not intended to be a challenge to Rishi Sunak’s authority.

He said: ‘We love Rishi. He is going to be a great leader.

‘This isn’t about attacking Rishi in any way, shape or form. This is about getting the right policy and Conservative MPs speaking up for their communities.’

Other amendments proposed by Ms Villiers would see tighter restrictions on homes being converted into holiday lets, more financial penalties for failing to build once planning permission was granted, and allowing councils to take a developer’s character into account when deciding on a planning application.

On Wednesday, Downing Street said Mr Sunak was still committed to the Government’s target of building 300,000 homes a year.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: ‘We want to work constructively to ensure we build more of the homes in the right places. That’s something that the department and the Secretary of State are very focused on.

He added that the Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, would continue to discuss how the 300,000-home target was delivered.

Labour is understood to be opposed to scrapping housebuilding targets.

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