Sunak delays housebuilding targets due to Tory rebellion – reports

Rishi Sunak has reportedly been forced to delay planning reforms as he faced a significant rebellion by Conservative MPs pushing for an end to mandatory housebuilding targets.

The Prime Minister was due to face the first major test of his leadership next Monday when MPs were set to vote on the flagship Levelling Up Bill.

But more than 40 backbenchers and former Cabinet ministers have signed an amendment to the Bill that would ban councils from taking housing targets into account when deciding on planning applications.

New homes
The Government plans to build 300,000 homes a year (Rui Vieira/PA)

The Government on Tuesday night appeared to pull the vote, blaming the congested parliamentary timetable, according to the Telegraph and i newspapers.

But Labour accused Mr Sunak of “running scared of your own backbenchers”.

The Tory rebels’ 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.

Ms Villiers’ proposals have been criticised by some, including 2019 Tory manifesto co-author Robert Colville, who said they would “enshrine ‘nimbyism’ as the governing principle of British society”.

Conservative Party Conference 2022
Theresa Villiers has proposed a series of amendments that would mean significant changes to the planning system (Jacob King/PA)

But her 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, told the PA news agency: “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”.

Cabinet meeting
Housing Secretary Michael Gove is in charge of steering the Levelling Up Bill through Parliament (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Support for the amendment scrapping housing targets has increased over the past week, rising from nine MPs on November 15 to at least 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.

The Telegraph put the number of signatories at 50 on Tuesday night.

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 Mr 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.

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’s shadow Levelling Up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This is a complete shambles. The government cannot govern, the levelling up agenda is collapsing and the housing market is broken. Pulling flagship legislation because you’re running scared of your own backbenchers is no way to govern.

“There is a case for reviewing how housing targets are calculated and how they can be challenged when disputed, but it is completely irresponsible to propose scrapping them without a viable alternative in the middle of a housing crisis.”