Can the White Paper survive the Tory parliamentary party?
It’s clear that the recently published White Paper is a piece of radical thinking from Number 10, with the potential to shake up planning across the country in a way that hasn’t happened for decades. As the dust settles, Ministers will turn to getting this thing through Parliament unscathed.
The PM’s 80-seat parliamentary majority may make it seem like he can railroad radical legislation through Parliament. But we live in uncertain times. Given the rebellion over Huawei back in March, along with a new, younger 2019 intake, alongside rural Members, the Prime Minister may find himself in a spot of bother.
Boris Johnson can’t rely on cross-party support, with Labour MPs unlikely to be in a charitable mood – particularly with this being a flagship Government policy and an opportunity for Government defeat.
The main source of headache for Conservative MPs will be Tory councillors angry about the loss of local control over planning matters. The Tory chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) has raised concerns about this issue, and we can expect this will concern Tory councillors in the lead-up to next year’s local elections.
Many Blue Wall MPs represent Labour-led authorities and will have wafer-thin majorities to protect and will be strongly focused on protecting the gains made in the last election.
The extent of Boris’ parliamentary challenge won’t be immediately obvious, with MPs taking a conciliatory approach of ‘we need to see more detail’. But when opposing MPs return to Parliament in September they will assess the strength of their number and the backroom discussions will begin.
The White Paper covers issues that that have challenged the sector for years. It aims for a simplified planning system and updated Local Plans which frees land for development and grants permanency to the green belt.
Threats of nationally proscribed housing targets will be key for MPs, with Councils having previously worked extremely hard to achieve lower targets. This will be a key battleground, that Government can’t lose if it wants to deliver a step-change in housing delivery and build its way to post-COVID economic recovery.
For Conservative MPs, the feeling that delivering on home ownership is the key to continued Tory rule will push many to support these reforms. But can this overcome local pressure from residents and councillors? The backbench picture is mixed and will require careful parliamentary management – something that the Johnson Administration hasn’t faired well on when tested.
The Government’s challenge is to strike the correct balance between holding onto the ‘good stuff’ from the White Paper – creating a simplified planning system, building beautiful homes and delivering housing the country desperately needs – whilst appeasing dissenting backbenchers. It promises to be a difficult balancing act.
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