The government has faced a potentially serious revolt over plans to centralize and accelerate the housing process in England after Theresa May led senior Tory MPs to oppose proposals in Parliament.
In May, speaking at a Commons backbench debate hosted by another Conservative MP, Bob Sally, who said he and others fully supported the need to build more homes, ministers must “think about it again.”
The former prime minister, who in recent weeks has been a vocal critic of the government’s plans to break international law by unilaterally rewriting parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, said the plans would eliminate local decision-making, build in rural areas, and provide affordable housing.
“We need to build more homes, but we’re forcing local authorities to allow developers more plans so they can build more homes to lower prices – we developers just won’t do it,” he said.
“The government needs to rethink this and understand what impact the proposals will have.”
The changes to the plan, published in a white paper in August, will remove councils from many regular decisions and instead use an algorithm to set new housing targets for local areas.
Analysis of the algorithm has led many Tory MPs and councilors to fear that many of the homes needed for the annual target of 333,000 will be built in Conservative heartlands like Kent and Row.
Silly’s backbench proposal, which has no pressure on the government, requested that the new system not be introduced without any debate and vote in the Commons.
The Isle of Wight MP said the algorithm took the risk by confirming that with new homes, “the biggest housing growth would be in rural shires and suburbs, and the biggest declines would be in the urban north and midlands”.
Virtually every Tory MP who criticized the plan, former May-era cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, said they risked “corrupting local democracy, reducing affordable housing and occupying our beautiful countryside.” He added: “The government needs to think again.”
Damien Green, an Ashford MP and former May deputy deputy aide, said he and other Kent MPs had expressed deep concern. “The algorithm is a tool for mathematicians, not politicians,” he said. “We are at risk of turning England’s garden into a gesture.”
Other Tory former ministers who took part in the criticism included Chris Grayling, who said the plans would only “suck the growth” of England’s southeast, Damien Hinds and Caroline Knox.
Knox, a former immigration minister, said local councils were able to make better decisions about where new housing should be located. “Local councilors who have a track record of delivery should continue to deliver,” he requested.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said any move would mean people could no longer afford to buy a home. He said: “That’s why we must cut the red tape and revise the planning system to make the system faster, where councils and local people can decide where developments should take place and what should not.”
Asked about the concerns of Tory MPs about whether the algorithm would mean the south of England rather than the North or the Midlands, he said: “