Johnson Faces Tory Rebellion Over Plan to Boost House Building

Boris Johnson faces a rebellion in his ruling Conservative Party over plans to overhaul England’s planning system to accelerate house building.

Former Cabinet minister Damian Green said “dozens” of Tory members of Parliament are prepared to vote against the Planning Bill when it’s put to Parliament, likely in the fall. “I think it is very likely that government will have to think again,” he said in an interview.

Under the government’s proposals, local authorities in England must designate zones for protection or development, making it easier for builders to get planning permission and harder for local residents to object.

Ministers see the change as a way to help meet the target of building 300,000 new homes a year, and are considering their response to a consultation on the measures before drafting legislation.

Electoral Appeal

The reforms will help the Conservatives make further inroads in the so-called Red Wall seats in northern England that until recently typically voted Labour, according to a person familiar with the government’s thinking.

Tory strategists say home ownership plays a part in voters switching allegiance from other parties, including in Hartlepool, the northeast town which elected its first Conservative MP last week and where 60% of people own their homes.

But some Tory MPs in southeast England and London fear the new zonal system will pave the way for swathes of new development that will be unpopular with residents, especially in affluent neighborhoods that typically vote Conservative.

Though Johnson has a significant majority in Parliament, the divisions over planning are a sign of the challenge he faces trying to incorporate a broader spectrum of interests following the electoral gains in recent years.

‘Wrong Places’

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, former Prime Minister Theresa May -- whose Maidenhead district west of London has seen considerable development in recent years -- said the plans threaten to “see the wrong homes being built in the wrong places.”

Green, who represents Ashford in southeast England, said the government is mistaken in thinking the current planning system is what’s holding up building. “What’s happening is that developers aren’t penalized for sitting on land and not developing it,” he said.

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, Tory MP for Chipping Barnet in north London, has also voiced her objections.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the proposed reforms would give communities a “greater voice” at the start of the planning process.

“Locally created design codes will also be introduced, reflecting the preferences of local communities and every council will need to get a local plan in place,” the spokesperson said in an email.

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