Although it is the summer recess Robert Jenrick has his work cut out to temper the rising opposition to his forthcoming Planning Bill. Since the publication of the Planning White Paper nearly a year ago opposition within the Tory Party has been steadily rising. Formed of backbenchers and ministers, the 100-strong rebel group have continually voiced their concerns the Bill will lead to a ‘free for all’, with the bulk of development concentrated across the southeast.
Under the current reforms, a zoning system will determine areas for growth where applications would be automatically approved. Opponents to the Bill are pushing the government to drop zoning from the reforms, fearful of the consequences this could have with the electorate.
They are concerned it could turn traditional Tory voters towards the Liberal Democrats and other opposition parties. In June the Chesham and Amersham by-election result saw Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Green who ran on an anti-development ticket overturn a 16,000 majority.
Whether the Lib Dems could replicate the shock by election win elsewhere and in a General Election is debatable, but the result has been enough to spook Home County Conservatives through the summer.
To quell this fear and opposition, the Government is reported to be in ‘listening mode’ and are willing to ‘take some of the edges off that are upsetting people’. Jenrick is hosting weekly Zoom meetings with backbenchers over the summer to try and bring them into the fold. This is a clever move, but it is clear a lot is going to have to happen to get the Bill through Parliament. We have seen Jenrick backtrack and tone down his reforms before and no doubt we will be seeing it again before long. Only last month when addressing the Local Government Association Conference Jenrick announced changes to plans for Community Infrastructure Levies and stated the planning system did not require ‘ripping up and starting again’.
However, SP Broadway understands from sources close to Parliament that the Secretary of State has the backing of Boris Johnson to drive through reform of the planning system. The Government is not necessarily declaring the reforms dead quite yet, with the feeling being that it’s one thing to grumble about the Bill in a private WhatsApp group but another to vote against a Prime Minister with the largest majority for nearly forty years. New MPs from the 2019 intake will be reminded that they owe their positions largely to ‘Brand Boris’ and will have to be very brave to take a stand so early in their careers.
It will be interesting to see what Jenrick and the government’s response will be, particularly on the point of growth zones. Just three weeks ago Christopher Pincher, in a parliamentary debate triggered by Bob Seeley, one of the more outspoken opponents to the Bill, stated there are two key aspects of the planning reforms the government intended to stick by – one of which was the introduction of the zoning system.
Both the Government and the rebel ring leaders appear to be up for a fight. Who will win will become clear in the coming months.