Gove to water down house building targets after Tory rebellion threat

The government is set to water down housing construction targets after “well over 100 Tory MPs” threatened to rebel against the planning reform.

In a letter to MPs on Monday, seen by the Palestinian Authority News Agency, Communities Secretary Michael Gove said the Leveling and Regeneration Bill would be amended to abolish mandatory building targets of accommodation.

Mr Gove said he recognizes ‘there is no really objective way of calculating how many new homes are needed in an area’ but that ‘the housing planning process has to start with a number’ .

The change would make the centrally determined target a “starting point”, with councils able to offer to build fewer houses if they faced “real constraints” or had to build at a density which would “significantly change the character” of their area.

The bill is expected to return to the House of Commons next week for the second day of its report stage.

Mr Gove’s letter represents a victory for a Conservative backbench group led by former Tory cabinet minister Theresa Villiers and Tory MP Bob Seely, who had proposed a series of amendments to the government’s flagship bill which would have meant radical changes to the planning system.

Theresa Villiers led a major backbench rebellion against planning reform (Jacob King/PA)

Around 60 MPs had signed an amendment that would have removed mandatory housing targets and the requirement for councils to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.

Proponents of the proposal said it would protect the environment and ensure that communities are not forced to accept unwanted development.

But some Tories have criticized the proposal, with co-author of the 2019 Tory manifesto Robert Colville saying it would “enshrine ‘Nimbyism’ as a guiding principle of British society”.

Welcoming Mr Gove’s announcement, Ms Villiers said the government had ‘listened’ and the reforms would ‘rebalance the planning system and give local communities a greater say in what is built in their piece”.

She added: ‘The compromise we have achieved shows that positive change can be achieved through careful scrutiny of legislation.’

Isle of Wight MP Mr Seely said ‘well over 100 Tory MPs’ had backed the changes, which would make the government’s housing and planning agenda ‘more conservative than the one we have now “.

He said: “The new language we have agreed on will work with communities, addressing the character of the areas and celebrating the beauty of good design. He understands the need for farmland, will have a significant focus on brownfields rather than greenfield development, and will help provide housing for young people.

Mr Seely dismissed accusations that the Conservative Party has nothing to offer young people, saying: ‘It’s going to be much better for young people.

“In places like the Isle of Wight, or places like the tip of Cornwall or Cumbria, it’s going to really help young people because we can say you can dramatically increase your local affordable housing targets, and that’s is specifically for young people.

“So it’s actually a really big win.

“If you are a developer and want to sit on the property for years and years, this is not good news for you. But actually, if you’re a council that wants to move forward and build, and if you’re a community that wants more control over its destiny, that’s good news.

“This is good news for everyone.”

As to whether Mr Gove’s decision had been influenced by Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer telling Rishi Sunak that Labor would give him the votes he needed to pass the planning reforms, Mr Seely said: ” It had nothing to do with it.

“The government did not want to lose 30, 40, 50 colleagues on a vote of principle. We did not want to vote against the government on principle.

“So it’s actually a win-win.”

Labor’s Lisa Nandy strongly criticized the government’s decision, calling it “unacceptable in the midst of a housing crisis”.

The Shadow Communities Secretary tweeted: ‘We offered Labor votes to defeat the Rebels but Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove appear to have chosen the party over the country.

“It’s so weak. In power but not in power.

Other changes Mr Gove agreed to include levying a higher infrastructure tax on the development of new land, taking action to prevent land set-aside and ending ‘duty to co-operate’ which forces rural and suburban areas to meet the housing needs of neighboring towns.

In the letter, Mr Gove said the government would ‘invest more homes in the North and Midlands to relieve pressure on the South’.

The government has also promised to consult on the requirement for planning permission before residential property can be rented on websites such as AirBnB.

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