Vote on tackling slow developers postponed amid MPs’ rebellion

A parliamentary vote on moves to speed up housing development has been postponed after a rebellion of MPs over another proposed policy threatened the government’s ability to see it off.

Last week, levelling-up secretary Michael Gove tabled an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that would give councils new powers to block planning proposals from builders “who have failed to deliver on the same land”, and require developers to report annually to councils on their progress.

The government also tabled plans to block “ugly” housing developments and give residents new tools to propose additional developments in their locality through “street votes”.

But an expected vote on amendments to the bill on Monday will no longer take place following a backbench rebellion over local housing targets.

More than 50 Tory MPs have now backed an amendment proposing the “prohibition of mandatory [housing] targets and abolition of [the] five-year land-supply rule”.

The bill, which is at the report stage, was debated in the House of Commons yesterday and a further debate is due to take place on Monday.

This was expected to be followed by a vote on amendments. But a spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said that “the vote due on Monday has been delayed; a new date will be set depending on parliamentary time”.

The amendment was tabled by Theresa Villiers and is backed by several other former cabinet ministers, including Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green and Priti Patel.

It proposes a clause stating that any housebuilding target for local planning authorities, in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) or elsewhere, “may only be advisory and not mandatory”, and should not be taken into account when determining planning applications.

It adds that “the NPPF must not impose an obligation on local planning authorities to ensure that sufficient housing development sites are available over five years or any other given period”.

Currently, planning authorities must demonstrate that they have a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

Green, a former Cabinet Office minister, wrote this week on the ConservativeHome website that “the underlying reason for the repeated failure to hit the targets is not the unwillingness of local councils to grant planning permission because of pressure from hordes of NIMBY boomers”.

Stating that about a million permissions for homes had been granted where no home had been built, he added: “Instead of blaming councils, we should look at the failure of the current regime to incentivise developers to build once they have received permission.

“It’s much more profitable to build up an increasingly valuable land bank than to flood the local market with new homes in a short space of time. So permission should be time-limited or become increasingly and painfully expensive over time if the option to build is not exercised.”

He argued that implementing this “would do more to help young people become homeowners than anything proposed by the target-obsessed”.

But Simon Clarke, who was briefly levelling-up secretary earlier this year, said on Twitter: “There is no question that this amendment would be very wrong.”

Clarke said that while he understood how “inappropriate development has poisoned the debate on new homes” in some constituencies, “I do not believe the abandonment of all housing targets is the right response”.

He added that “we need to recognise the fundamental intergenerational unfairness we will be worsening and perpetuating if we wreck what are already too-low levels of housebuilding in this country. Economically and socially it would be disastrous. Politically it would be insane.”

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