Conservatives to face political in-fight over housing

The team at Department for Communities and Local Government have had to fend off their own side in a Commons discussion on housing.

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The government has come under attack from its own side on decisions taken locally for housing developments.

Secretary of state for communities and local government, Sajid Javid, also outlined that the Housing White Paper, which was hotly anticipated to be out next month, will actually be released in January.

There was the usual batting backwards and forwards of statistics from Conservative to Labour but after the skirmishing, Commons saw the Tory frontbench ducking fire from its own lines.

Andrew Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield, was the first to raise an issue with a decision made by DCLG on housing developments.

He asked Javid if he could understand “the anger and disappointment” felt by his constituents to “back wholly unnecessary plans to build on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt?”

He also called the decision a “breach of the Conservative party’s election manifesto” and stated he would “oppose his decision by all legal means”.

In response, Javid said: “The government placed a hold on the Birmingham local plan precisely because they value the green belt: it is very, very special.

“However, when a local community has come forward with a robust plan, has looked at all the alternatives, has considered its housing needs and has prioritised brownfield sites, and when the independent planning inspectorate has said that the plan conforms to all the rules and regulations, the Government have no valid reason to stand in the way.”

However, it was not only Javid who had to fend off attacks, with housing minister Gavin Barwell also defending recent government actions.

Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, said recent actions from Javid “completely undermined the neighbourhood plan of Newick”.

She said: “Does that not suggest that neighbourhood plans are not worth the paper they are written on?”

The housing minister responded by saying the upcoming White Paper will help with these sorts of issues, saying: “We want to consider how we can change policy so that the people who work hard to produce such plans have more confidence that they will have an effect on all applications.”

But still the negative reactions to DCLG decisions did not stop there from Conservative members.

Steve Double, MP for Austell and Newquay, spoke about a development in his constituency, which was outside of the Local Plan that 95% of residents said they did not want buildings on.

He said: “Does he agree that if permissions are granted on sites that are not allocated for development, that does little to promote the public’s confidence in the planning system?”

Conservative MP for Stroud, Neil Carmichael, also voiced some concern over the planning system, saying: “If we  are to have a local plan-led system, what is the minister going to do to make sure that local plans are saluted, especially by planning inspectors?

To which Barwell replied: “Provided that local plans have a five-year land supply, the expectation should be that planning applications are decided in accordance with those local plans, unless clear material considerations suggest otherwise.”

Questions also ranged from rural housing to garden villages, after a question from Michael Gove on their role in housing plans.

Javid replied: “We will be supporting a number of garden villages—those that are committed to being well-designed communities and that will stand out as exemplars of good development for years to come.

“We will ensure that there are real and important benefits that are rightly secured from the outset: quality, design, cutting-edge technology, local employment opportunities, accessible green space, and fantastic access to public transport.”

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