Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Rishi Sunak faces ‘substantial’ Tory rebellion on housing targets as Leveling Up Bill returns

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Senior rebels have warned Rishi Sunak that he must live up to his promises by abandoning top-down housing targets, which became a key political pledge by Liz Truss before she was forced to resign

The government faces a “substantial” rebellion over housing targets this week as dozens of Tory MPs call for changes to planning laws.

Senior rebels have warned Rishi Sunak that he must “deliver on his promises” by abandoning top-down housing targets, which became a key political pledge by Liz Truss before she was forced to resign.

Ministers are expected to bring back the government’s flagship Leveling Up and Regeneration Bill, which aims to introduce various planning reforms as well as decentralization powers, when it is passed next year.

But more than two dozen Tory MPs have slammed the bill with changes that will tear up the current planning system while removing mandatory local housing targets.

The move has been described by critics as an attempt to “eviscerate” the planning system while effectively blocking development unless it’s on wasteland.

The amendment to scrap local authority housing targets was signed by 22 Tory backbenchers who believe the system needs a full overhaul to discourage “low-density car-dependent greenfield developments”.

A leading rebel tells I: “This was promised by the Tory leadership candidates and Rishi promised it in a campaign husting in London. We want these promises to be kept.”

MPs held talks with Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Thursday last week to move their case forward, but Mr Gove is not believed to have changed the Government’s position on housing targets.

Under the current system, local governments establish housing targets based on the standardized national housing needs assessment formula. But dozens of Tory MPs believe the top-down targets will result in housing developments being built where they are not wanted, and all too often on greenfield sites.

The Tory rebel added: “We need to change the economy so developers don’t just use sluggish greenfield sites. We are very happy about a much more ambitious policy. What we hate is dense, car-dependent, unsustainable greenfield housing that was never built for the young people of our country and that the old people don’t really like either. “

Scheduling has become a critical issue for the Tory party as it attempts to overhaul the system scrapped by Boris Johnson, who feared a 70-strong backbench rebellion.

A separate Tory MP who signed the amendment due to be tabled on Wednesday said the number of MPs ready to rebel was “significant”.

Rebel ringleaders called MPs Sunday night to try to increase the number, with one telling the story I that there are several ministers and parliamentary private secretaries who support the goals. The Government is not expected to lose the vote on the amendment, but there is a risk it may have to rely on Labor Party votes to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

Ministers are acutely aware of the need to increase housing construction in the country at a time when the sector expects a significant drop in housing construction due to the recession and higher mortgage costs.

Robert Colvile, director of the think-tanks Center for Policy Studies, said the change, spearheaded by former Cabinet Secretary Theresa Villiers, would “make an appalling situation worse”.

“That deepens the recession. It’s hitting GDP, employment and tax revenues – which means we need more austerity. He is eliminating affordable housing as it is funded by levies on private development.”

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