Communities should not have new housing shoved down their throats with no right to object, Conservative MPs have urged as they upped pressure on the government to scrap some of its controversial planning reforms.
They went public with their concerns after the Tories lost the Chesham and Amersham byelection last week, a defeat partly blamed on how planning changes and HS2 would affect green belt areas such as the Buckinghamshire seat.
Labour has called the planning bill a “developers’ charter”, with the shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, claiming the proposals would gag residents from objecting to planning proposals and see communities bulldozed over with no right to object.
He said that donations to the Tories from large developers had risen by 400% under Boris Johnson’s leadership, warning: “That money was an investment that expects a return … The prime minister is paying back developers by selling out communities.”
One Labour MP, Andy Slaughter, went even further and said the reforms were evidence of “an increasingly corrupt relationship between the Conservative party and the major developers and builders”, dubbing the transaction: “Donations for deregulation.”
A non-binding opposition motion tabled in the Commons on Monday, which said the government should protect communities’ right to object to individual planning applications, was passed by 231 votes to 0 – after the Conservatives abstained. Two Tory MPs, Will Wragg and Anne Marie Morris, rebelled to vote with Labour on the motion.
But Tory MPs sent subtle signals of their unhappiness to the government. Bob Seeley said communities should not be treated “as the planning equivalent of a foie gras goose with ever-more housing shoved down them”, adding: “Stripping away democracy at whatever level should be avoided by a Conservative government.”
He said that concentrating most new builds in south-east England would mean “actively depriving” areas in the north of investment, warning: “This process continues reductio ad absurdum like some planning wheel of doom”
Chris Clarkson said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about the planning bill, but did not “necessarily disagree” with Labour’s motion, a sentiment echoed by Will Wragg, chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee.
Claire Coutinho, a parliamentary private secretary to the Treasury, also admitted she had “some sympathy” with the motion, though cautioned: “What the Labour party is trying to do is create division on our side of the house in the hope of making political capital, while not contributing any ideas to help solve a national problem.”
Chris Pincher, the housing minister, gave no hint the government was preparing to offer concessions.
He said the planning bill “will not diminish the ability of local communities to take part in the planning process” but instead “give communities more, not less, of a say through better information, easier means to take part and crucially a clearer voice when it can make a real difference in the planning process”.