As expected, tensions have continued to flare in the Tory Party this week over the Government’s proposed overhaul of the planning system. On Tuesday (18th) the Commons debated the Queen’s speech with Secretary of State Robert Jenrick hailing the proposed planning reforms as ‘acceptance of a major generational problem’ which has kept ‘young people locked out of the benefits of capitalism’ and threatens the property-owning democracy which he believes is an integral part of the UK’s identity. In his address to the Commons, Robert Jenrick hoped introducing planning reforms would be “an issue above party politics” – a message that has failed to resonate within his party.
Bob Seely, Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, continued to be one of the reforms’ biggest opponents. In the Commons this week he argued the proposed reforms give the Opposition a rallying cry of “Save our local democracies from the Tories” – a dangerous position for the Conservatives to be in as they have so much to lose if they fail voters across the South and South East. In an article to The Telegraph this week, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith shared the Isle of Wight MP’s concern that if problems with the planning system are not addressed public support in Tory strongholds could be at risk.
Whilst there is consensus within the Tory Party the current planning system is both outdated and problematic many believe the reforms will only make the current situation worst. Critics argue that instead of giving a voice to local communities, in areas that are designated for growth local people’s input would be made redundant.
One MP offering a solution was the MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman who suggested developers should be given 18 months to start building or risk losing planning permission. After three years developers should be charged full council tax for every dwelling they failed to build – an interesting solution!!
This week, the President of the Country Land and Business Association also offered his thoughts on the Bill suggesting in a letter to the Prime Minister, “quick easy changes” could be made to the Bill to allow the countryside to ‘level up’ alongside the rest of the country. Mark Bridgeman argued rural areas should be treated as a living, breathing part of the economy making it dangerous to stop development in the countryside.
Clearly, something must be done to tackle the growing opposition to the new planning reforms, and Robert Jenrick is taking a proactive approach to quell disquiet within his party. His plans to meet Tory backbenchers including Bob Seely will be an opportunity for opponents to see the Bill in full. Whilst Jenrick is optimistic that Bob Seely could become an ‘enthusiastic supporter’ after he has seen the Bill, his optimism could be misplaced. He should not forget it was a group of MPs led by Bob Seely that saw the mutant algorithm overthrown last year. He would do better to take Iain Duncan Smith’s advice to listen to criticism and act on it – the same way he did last year.
Only time will tell whether the Secretary of State can bring opponents to his reforms back into the fold or whether this is only a taste of what is to come. My guess? This is only the beginning and Robert Jenrick should brace himself for more.