The Housing Secretary has doubled down on proposals to reform the planning system despite opposition from Conservative MPs, as he said the Government had “a duty” to ensure home ownership was a realistic possibility for young people and families.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Robert Jenrick said the current planning system “needs reforming” as “it excludes local people” and is “cumbersome, complicated, and hugely difficult for ordinary people to navigate”.
But it comes after two Tory MPs rebelled to support a Labour motion calling on the Government to protect the right of communities to object to individual planning applications.
And there were also words of caution from the Conservative benches about how the Government should approach the changes.
With a target of building 300,000 new homes a year in England, ministers want to overhaul the planning system, arguing reforms would boost the building of high-quality, sustainable homes, by streamlining the process and cutting red tape.
However critics warn the plans will undermine local democracy by removing the public’s right to be heard in person and would strip elected planning committees of development decisions.
Boris Johnson has come under increased pressure to rethink the upheaval as it was partly blamed for the Conservatives’ shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.
Cabinet ministers were said to be among those warning the Prime Minister after the Liberal Democrats won the Buckinghamshire seat that has been a Tory stronghold since its creation in 1974.
But Mr Jenrick wrote in the Telegraph about “the belief that home ownership should be achievable for all who dream of it and that young people should aspire to own the keys to their own home”.
He said: “We have a duty to young people and families to help them get there, and benefit from the security and prosperity that it can bring… but to make this happen the current planning system needs reforming.”
In the Commons on Monday, Labour’s non-binding motion was approved by 231 votes to zero, majority 231, after the majority of Tory MPs abstained.
Conservative William Wragg (Hazel Grove), who rebelled along with Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), told the Commons: “The problem is we agree with the principle but politics gets in the way. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard of being here.”
He went on: “We’re not Nimbys (not in my back yard), that’s not the accusation that should be thrown at those of us who might have some scepticism about some of the ideas that have been ventured forth.
“Nor indeed are we Bananas, that is to say ‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody’.
“What we want to see is a planning process, although some people might disagree, what we want to see is a planning process that involves and engages people and delivers the housing that we most certainly need.”
Opening the debate for Labour, shadow housing secretary Steve Reed said the proposals are “not popular with voters” because residents want a say on how their neighbourhoods are developed.
But housing minister Christopher Pincher said: “Individual planning applications can take up to five years to determine as well as plans taking up to seven years – it’s not fast enough, it’s not consistent, nor is it clear, nor is it engaging enough and we are committed to improve the system, because our reforms will protect our valuable and beautiful green spaces with vital protections in place for the green belt.”