Planning algorithm may destroy suburbia, Tory MPs warn Boris Johnson

No mention of the damage to our countryside. No mention of Simon Jupp MP or Neil Parish MP lobbying the Prime Minister. Owl is very interested in their views especially those of Simon Jupp who we now know sits on the secretive Liveable Exeter Place Board

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | George Greenwood 

Boris Johnson has been warned by Tory MPs that an algorithm at the heart of his planning reforms risks “destroying suburbia” and “creating the slums of the future”.

The prime minister held a video conference call on Wednesday with 17 Tory MPs from the greater London area about the government’s white paper on planning. He was joined by Mark Spencer, the chief whip, and Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary.

The MPs, who included four serving ministers, were “unanimous” in raising concerns about the reforms, which will treble the number of homes built in London to 93,532 a year. They warned that the reforms would “do real harm to the suburbs” and “real harm to the Conservative vote”.

Some of the MPs raised concerns that Labour local authorities would build tower blocks in suburban areas to fulfil the target and “fundamentally change the nature of the constituency”.

One MP said: “Labour wants to build us out of London. We’ll end up with low-quality homes, rabbit hutch houses, not the family homes we need.”

Another said: “There’s already huge pressure in the planning system to urbanise the suburbs. The housing targets produced by this new algorithm are completely undeliverable and would make an already difficult situation far worse. They would force high rise, high-density development on local communities. There is a real danger that this would lead to the creation of the slums of the future.”

All the London Tory MPs and councillors are planning to make a joint response to the consultation raising their concerns.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he understood their concerns and was in “listening mode”. He stressed the need to build more homes in areas where people wanted to live.

Pushed on the algorithm at the heart of the reforms, the prime minister joked: “Algorithms are banned,” a reference to the exams chaos caused by an algorithm developed by the regulator.

Tory MPs flagged to Mr Johnson the strain that the planning reforms would place on his own constituency in Uxbridge. “He understood where we were coming from,” one said.

However, Mr Jenrick was said to be far more “defensive” about the algorithm.

“Jenrick was talking about how he understood the concerns but we need to build more housing,” one of the MPs said. “He said that everyone had to take their fair share.”

Under the changes to planning laws, local discretion over the rate of housebuilding will be removed and central government will “distribute” an annual target, at present 337,000 a year, among local councils. They will then be required to designate enough land to meet the target.

Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, has suggested that much of the new housing will be concentrated in Conservative local authority areas in the suburbs and the shires, rather than in town centres.

Tory constituencies will have housing targets raised by 52 per cent, from 81,200 to 123,400. On average, each Conservative-held local authority will have a rise of about 370 homes, compared with 250 for Labour-held areas.

A total of 25 Labour-held council areas would have their housing requirements slashed, with Manchester falling by nearly 1,000, Leicester by 600, Birmingham and Bradford by 500 each, and Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield by 400 each.

Neil O’Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough, Leicestershire, said: “Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ‘level up’ to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering. It would be quite difficult to explain to Conservative voters why they should take more housing in their areas to allow large Labour-run cities nearby to continue to stagnate rather than regenerate.”

A government source said: “This is not something we’re going to step away from. We’ve got a duty to do this for the next generation.”