British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces the first major rebellion of his premiership this week as dozens of Conservative Members of Parliament oppose the government’s housebuilding plans.

Some 47 Tory rank and file backbenchers have signed an amendment to the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill that would ban the imposition on local councils of mandatory housebuilding targets. The bill is set to return to the House of Commons, for debate on Wednesday, though it’s unclear when or if any amendments will be voted on. Nevertheless if Labour and other opposition parties back the rebels, the government — which has a working majority of 69 — faces defeat.

Also read | Can’t allow top talent to be drawn to US, China: UK’s Rishi Sunak on immigration

Planning and housebuilding have long been a point of friction within the Conservative Party, which traditionally dominates in leafy, rural areas. The rebels, concerned about a voter backlash in their heartlands, argue local communities should have more say over where homes are built.

“A central target cannot recognize the different pressures in different parts of the country,” one of the potential rebels, Damian Green, wrote on Tuesday in the ConservativeHome website. “National averages for house prices are meaningless in the real world because the same house will be many times the price on the outskirts of Sevenoaks as the outskirts of Sunderland. This is precisely why we need local decisions, expressed in local plans, about the scale of development needed in each area.”

Also read | UK PM Rishi Sunak says no plans to align with EU laws in post-Brexit relationship

The Tories have promised to build 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, but efforts by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson to implement a planning policy to enable a significant ramping up of housebuilding foundered amid divisions in his party, which blamed the plans in part for defeat in a key special election last year. Construction started on almost 206,000 new dwellings in 2021-22, according to Office for National Statistics data.

The rebel proposals were criticized by the 2019 Tory manifesto co-author Robert Colville, who said they would “enshrine ‘nimbyism’ as the governing principle of British society.” NIMBY stands for Not In My Back Yard.

The proposed change to the bill is one of several put forward by Former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers to alter planning. Others include making it harder to turn homes into holiday lets and making it easier to incentivize construction on brownfield land rather than greenfield land, and greater penalties for developers which fail to build once planning permission is granted.

Sunak is still committed to the government’s target of building 300,000 homes a year, his spokesman Max Blain said.

“We want to work constructively to ensure we build more of the homes in the right places,” Blain told reporters on Tuesday. the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and its secretary of state, Michael Gove, are “very focused” on that, he said.

But the prime minister said during this year’s first Tory leadership contest — which he lost to Liz Truss — that his planning policy would be would be “brownfield, brownfield, brownfield,” suggesting he’s sympathetic to some of the rebel views.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen too many examples of local councils circumventing the views of residents by taking land out of the green belt for development, but I will put a stop to it,” he said at the time.

Source link