Sunak faces rebellion on housebuilding targets

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Rishi Sunak faces a significant rebellion on Wednesday as 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.

Ms Villiers’s 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)

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)

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.”

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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