Communities secretary praised for ’innovation and creativity’

Robert Jenrick is to meet Tory backbenchers “in the coming days” in an attempt to win them over to the government’s proposed planning reforms. 

The promise came as some backbenchers voiced cautious support for the proposed planning bill and Jenrick, the communities secretary, hit back at claims by former prime minister Theresa May that it will create a “developers’ charter”.

Despite continuing reservations from other Tory MPs, many praised the reforms yesterday in a Commons debate on last week’s Queen’s speech in signs of a growing unity within the party over the bill ahead of its expected introduction to parliament this year. 

Former international trade secretary Liam Fox said he welcomed Jenrick’s “enthusiasm, innovation and creativity”, while Milton Keynes North MP Ben Everitt said he was “very heartened” by the plans.

It will come as a relief to Jenrick following a rebellion last autumn over a housing algorithm included in a white paper on the reforms that forced the government into a U-turn.

Conservative Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely, who led the rebellion over the algorithm and was the most vocal opponent in the debate, told Jenrick that scrapping the current planning system was “un-Conservative” and could lead to a “whole host of new problems”.

Robert Jenrick

Robert Jenrick insisted that the reforms will be on the side of small housebuilders

He said that improving the current system rather than creating a new one would mean a better chance of the government achieving its housing targets and avoiding a “big bang with all the unforeseen consequences”.

To seek “revolutionary change” was more likely to result in “failed policy, unforeseen outcomes and, frankly, disenfranchised and irritated constituents”, he added.

Jenrick replied that Seely had “not seen the bill yet”. He added: ”When he does, I hope he will be reassured and converted into an enthusiastic supporter of it.

”He and I are going to meet in the coming days, and I hope I will be able to reassure him that this is not about casting aside the good, but about reforming and building on it so that we can have the planning system we all deserve.”

There was also some disagreement among Tory backbenchers over plans to tackle ”landbanking”, where developers buy up plots and secure planning permission but delay building until it is commercially viable.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph this week, Jenrick said that the government was looking at ways to stop the practice. Measures being considered including levies on land with planning permission that has not been built on.

Harrow East MP Bob Blackman suggested that developers should be given an 18-month deadline to start on site or lose their planning permission, and that if they have not built the homes within three years that they should be charged full council tax on all dwellings that have not been built.

But Rugby MP Mark Pawsey argued that a levy would “encourage developers simply to delay putting in their applications until they are absolutely ready to build”.

He added that it could lead to applications “coming in en masse in good times and little activity at lower times”.

Jenrick insisted that the government was working “day and night” in the interests of small housebuilders, adding: “It is the little guy whose side we are on and that is why we are committed to reforming the system.”