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The Boys Are Back In Town – A Singalong with Swire 

>> Boys club <<
A singalong with Swire
 Sasha Swire’s tell-all diaries have caused a bit of a splash in Westminster this week, embarrassing almost every top-flight Tory minister of the last ten years – with the notable exception of her husband. So allow us.

In 2012, Hugo Swire (then-Minister Of State for Northern Ireland) was invited as a guest of honour to attend an Old Etonians In Ireland lunch. Those present have a very vivid memory of the speech he gave.

Using a portable CD player, kitted out with tinny-sounding speakers, Hugo began blasting out Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. Then, as the chorus kicked in, he started calling out the names of prominent Old Etonians and listing their current positions in public life, all while singing along to the refrain.

“David Cameron, Prime Minister… The boys are back in town! / Boris Johnson, Mayor of London… The boys are back in town! / Prince William and Prince Harry… The boys are back in town! (The boys are back in town!) / Tom Hiddleston… The boys are back in town!”

Congratulations to Sasha for out-Popbitching Popbitch by getting the following description of Michael Gove’s knob in print: “Like a slinky that comes down the stairs before the rest of the body”.

Sasha Swire dazzled men – but can MP’s wife survive social Siberia?

Owl posts this review because it focuses on the Swires and their way of life. To Owl it raises the question as to why on earth the local Tory activists “dotty as the stalwarts in the Vicar of Dibley” chose Hugo Swire as the candidate for East Devon in 2001? It also raises the question as why the electorate thought that he would do anything for the constituency and consistently voted for him? His interests were always elsewhere.

Richard Kay 

14-18 minutes

How frightfully unfair it is on gorgeous, glamorous Sasha Swire to judge her by her conversations with those famous politicians — royals, too — after she jotted down every lip-smacking detail night after night in her secret diary.

How much fairer to remember the willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume. Or flirting with a plutocrat at a Buckingham Palace banquet and noting approvingly to herself — after he offers to whisk her to Corsica on his superyacht — that it’s ‘nice my husband thinks I can still pull’.

Sex, discussing it and complaining about the lack of it is a constant feature of Sasha’s newly published Diary Of An MP’s Wife. ‘David talks a lot about sex,’ she says of our former prime minister in one Bridget Jones-style entry.

But he’s not the only one. At a Chequers dinner party Lady Swire, 57, whose father Sir John Nott was Defence Secretary at the time of the Falklands War, enlivens the company by announcing: ‘I enjoy sex much more in my 50s than in my 40s.’

Perhaps this, then, is how she should be recognised, as a towering show-off and attention-seeker. As well as someone with a fear of losing her allure and an obsession with money — although thanks to the staggering indiscretions in her diary, she will now be having it delivered by the sackful.

Financial reward may, however, be the one compensation for putting pen to paper. Friendships have been broken and bridges burned on such an epic scale that all those glossy invitations to the smartest house parties are likely to vanish.

As one Tory grandee who entertained Sasha and her husband, former MP Sir Hugo Swire, at his country home said: ‘When she came to stay we had no idea she was keeping copious notes so we could appear in her diaries. They are a lovely couple but Sasha has a ruthless streak in her.’

Sasha Swire was a willowy beauty who mesmerised men — such as David Cameron — with a sway of her slim hips and a whiff of her expensive perfume

Another ‘victim’, a former Cabinet minister with whom she used to exchange intimacies, recalled how in recent years, whenever she saw Sasha, she was bombarded with questions about her sex life. ‘I now think she was looking for nuggets for her bloody book,’ she says.

‘I feel very used. She goes out of her way to get you to open up emotionally. And I know others feel the same way.’

One figure says he and his wife came to dread going to dinner with the Swires. ‘The first thing she’ll say is, ‘Do you still sleep with your wife?’ It’s so disarming.

‘She seeks to be friendly but it’s actually humiliating and it comes across as sheer bloody rudeness.’

For ten years at the epicentre of a social salon at the top of the political tree, Sasha Swire had a ringside seat in the management of Britain thanks to her husband’s friendship and support of David Cameron.

And all that time she was scratching away in the room at her Devon manor house she calls her ‘writing tower’, overlooking the landscaped gardens she designed herself.

Her name is on the book and the words are certainly hers, but it has been a joint enterprise. Sir Hugo, a former debs’ delight who once dated Jerry Hall (when the Texan model was on the rebound from serially unfaithful Mick Jagger), was no mere passive observer.

It must, therefore, have been that much harder to include — amid all the lewd banter, cruel mockery, Negronis at dawn and withering put-downs — a reference to a suspected affair between her husband and an unnamed woman.

As the Mail reported yesterday, this was one social indiscretion Lady Swire was reluctant to enlarge upon.

Many wonder if this book will be the equivalent of the Alan Clark diaries of the Thatcher and Major years of the Eighties and Nineties? Clark, of course, found himself an object of contempt and derision over his sordid, and to many people, repulsive revelations about his sexual depravity.

Lady Swire’s wicked disclosures are, so far, only registering shock and dismay but the final judgment could yet be merciless. All the same, the Clark parallel does resonate. There is nothing in her memoir to match the grubbiness of Clark’s ‘coven’ — a mother and her two daughters with whom he slept. But some will see in this undoubtedly gripping diary an example of the seediness of life at the top of Britain.

And there is also the possibility that her diaries might one day be televised as Clark’s were. ‘She’s imagining a little mini-series,’ says a Devon friend.

Such chutzpah suggests that she feels she has done nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Yes, of course there were a few tears when the criticism began rolling in, but not for long and not very many,’ says a confidante. ‘Sasha’s very pragmatic. She’s looked at what’s been said about the diaries and concluded that it’s mainly of a political nature.’

The journalist Petronella Wyatt, whose father Woodrow published a posthumous and outrageous account of private conversations with the great and the good, says Lady Swire — a friend of more than 20 years — had initially been upset at the reaction. ‘She doesn’t think the criticism is justified,’ adds Wyatt. ‘It’s a fun book. It’s not nasty. No one should take offence.’

Others may disagree. Mr Cameron, for example, was left squirming over Lady Swire’s tales detailing his personal feuds, drinking and sexual innuendos.

Of the incident in which he allegedly joked that her perfume made him want to push her ‘into the bushes and give you one’, he prudently said he had no memory.

However, the former prime minister and his wife, Samantha, who in one passage is described as having ‘gin-sodden breath’ following her husband’s resignation after the EU referendum, are said to have been ‘astonished’ by the betrayal of so many friends and confidences. They were aware that the diaries were coming. Others were not so fortunate.

At the same time it does seem extraordinary that the Camerons hosted the couple at their home in Cornwall for a weekend only a fortnight ago.

And that just last Saturday — 24 hours before the first instalment appeared in a Sunday newspaper and in which the ex-PM was said to have made smutty jokes about dogging and mocked for his fitness fads — he and Sir Hugo, 60, were shooting grouse together in Yorkshire with other senior Tories.

‘This actually tells you more about the Swires than the Camerons,’ says a figure. ‘Sasha is shameless and has this breathtaking confidence that Hugo is swept along by. It was the same when they met.’ Their meeting in 1996 had something of a coup de foudre about it says the friend. ‘Hugo had been a dashing army officer in the Grenadier Guards and was making his way at Sotheby’s and there were no shortage of girlfriends.’

At one stage he was a ‘walker’ for the separated Duchess of York. ‘Along came Sasha, this leggy blonde with a mind of her own and he was smitten.’

With Sasha pregnant with their first daughter — not a good look for a Tory seeking a parliamentary seat — they were married quickly.

Only five people were at the ceremony at the Royal Hospital chapel in Chelsea in 1996 where the best man was Lord Michael Cecil, youngest brother of the Marquess of Salisbury.

A church service in Kensington was followed by a reception in the Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground. Among the guests were the Tory donor Anthony Bamford, owner of the JCB digger company and now a member of the House of Lords.

The Swires’ daughter Saffron was born five months later and a second daughter, Siena, came along in 2001, shortly after Hugo’s election as MP for East Devon. (He had contested the hopeless Labour seat of Greenock in 1997, the year of Tony Blair’s landslide.)

Cameron was also part of that 2001 intake and, although Hugo is seven years his senior, he saw leadership qualities in his fellow old Etonian and the two became friends.

‘Despite that, Sasha was always gunning for Dave,’ says a former minister. ‘She feels to this day that Hugo should have been given a job in the Cabinet. She thinks the only reason he isn’t is because of the Eton connection and that it didn’t fit in with the Cameron modernising agenda.’

The source adds: ‘It actually had nothing to do with that; the truth is Hugo wasn’t good enough, which is why he was sent to Northern Ireland as minister of state.’

An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off’

But then the outspoken Sasha not only knew her mind, she was also from a political family herself, and her school years had often been spent on the campaign trail supporting her father.

During elections she would turn up for lessons sporting a blue rosette, and out of school delivered leaflets.

She grew up in Cornwall and her father was friends with the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, who is said to have dedicated two poems to Sasha. She used to go fishing with Hughes and her father.

With two brothers — Julian, a musician who later made millions composing the scores for Wallace And Gromit and Peppa Pig animated films, and William who is in the oil business — Sasha was determined to win the approval of her father, to whom she was devoted.

‘She was like the pupil who always has their hand up in class trying to catch the teacher’s eye,’ says a Nott family friend. ‘She always wanted to impress her father.’

Her book, of course, will do just that. Nott cared little for party political sensibilities, once walking out of a TV interview with Robin Day who had accused him of being a ‘here today, gone tomorrow politician’.

And he also walked out on Margaret Thatcher by quitting the Commons to her dismay — though she refused to accept his resignation after the Argentine invasion of the Falklands and he oversaw the huge success of the British task force to liberate the islands.

‘He’s chomping at the bit to read the book,’ says the friend. ‘His attitude is ‘that’s my girl’ and he won’t give a fig if it has upset some people in the Tory Party.’

Strikingly good looking, his adored daughter was sent to Cranborne Chase, the fee-paying girls’ school near Tisbury, Wilts, which has since closed and was never noted for its academic qualities.

Sasha is remembered as being ‘a cracker’ and the prettiest girl of her year.

If John Nott provided her political education, she inherited her sense of outrage from her Slovenian mother Miloska, whose own background is heroic.

In the war, her father was a partisan, running a hotel where the Gestapo liked to eat by day, and smuggling Jews and others wanted by the Nazis to safety by night. Five months before the end of the war, he was caught and sent to Dachau concentration camp where he died.

Miloska met her husband in Cambridge, where she had been sent to learn English — at her engagement party to someone else.

In Nott’s memoir, Memorable Encounters, she recounted his exact words to her. ‘He said ‘I love you and I am going to marry you’, and then he went. I went home and wrote in my diary: ‘What a cheek, what a conceit, what a presumptuous male.’ ‘

Nevertheless they were married in 1959, the year Nott was president of the Cambridge Union. ‘Miloska is unbelievably frank, strong-minded, impetuous and forthright,’ says an acquaintance. ‘It’s clear that’s where Sasha gets it all from.’

After leaving school, she launched herself with gusto on the London social scene. ‘She was always the life and soul of a party with a drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, having fun — and, with her looks, she had a queue of boys wanting to take her out,’ remembers a friend.

One event fondly recalled is a party at Admiralty Arch — which her father had the use of — at the time of the wedding of Charles and Diana, a venue which overlooked the route. She was also a regular at the then achingly hip Camden Palace party venue in North London.

But though portrayed as a dippy aristocrat — her title comes from Swire’s knighthood, his consolation prize for not making the Cabinet — she was determined to make her own way and trained as a journalist, first in Lincolnshire and then at the Nottingham Post, where an admirer was known as ‘Forest’ because of his love of the local football team.

By the early 1990s she was in Hong Kong where one article for the South China Morning Post had the headline: ‘Would you sleep with a stranger for $1 million?’ Notable citizens were asked for their opinions, including the late socialite David Tang.

Back in London she became interested in political reporting and was often to be spotted with some of the livelier lobby correspondents. Another admirer was the architect and interior design guru Willie Nickerson, but until meeting Swire there were no serious love matches.

An old friend says: ‘She was fantastically glamorous and one always felt she was looking for a suitable husband. Hugo was good looking and funny and, though they were not an obvious pairing, they hit it off.’

But money was always an issue. A businessman who sat next to her at a dinner recalls: ‘She was extremely cross about the fact that politicians did not get enough money, saying that they should be paid more.’

Despite sharing his name with the famous Swire business conglomerate, which owns Cathay Pacific, her husband is only distantly related and has no financial connection.

Two years ago she confided to friends she had been keeping a diary and that she had written more than a million words since 2010. When Swire stood down as an MP last year, she sought a publishing deal.

Not everyone is surprised by what she has done. One well-placed Tory source said: ‘She came to dinner once with a video camera wanting to record the evening. We had to tell her to switch it off. I thought then: ‘How odd. Is she doing a documentary about us?’ ‘

A former Tory backbench colleague of Swire told us: ‘Sasha used to have a favourite phrase at the end of a week in Westminster: ‘What contributions do you have for our pension fund?’ In other words, she wanted Swire to reveal joyous indiscretions about life in the Cameron camp. He duly obliged.’

Her diaries may be unfair for their searing portrayal of the Cameron era as a frivolous, privileged elite playing at government but being more interested in sex and drinking. And for those who feature in the book’s pages it will be chiefly remembered for her grotesque breach of the etiquette of politics.

Frances Osborne, ex-wife of former Chancellor George Osborne, is understood to be dismayed at her depiction as a dull, downtrodden spouse. Both women grew up in the South West. She considered Sasha a friend.

The diaries, however, with their mix of treachery and snobbery, will provide gleeful pleasure for readers. As for Sasha Swire, she is already planning her next publishing sensation — a novel she hopes to complete by Christmas.


Reliable broadband? Certainly, sir. That’ll be £500,000

All David Roberts wanted was a broadband service fast enough for making uninterrupted video calls to his family and to watch All Creatures Great and Small without the picture constantly freezing.

Ali Hussain, Chief Money Reporter

He asked BT, Britain’s largest broadband provider, how much it would cost to upgrade the service to his home in the hamlet of Isel, near Cockermouth in Cumbria.

BT took a look and sent him a quote for the work: £502,586 to fix him up with a reliable connection.

Two other residents have been quoted similar amounts to access the basic broadband service all British homeowners are now entitled to under what is known as BT’s universal service obligation (USO).

“There is nothing universal about a scheme that requires people to pay £500,000,” said Roberts, 65, a retired lawyer. “These figures are wholly inconsistent and ridiculous. They seem designed to put people off.”

The experience of Roberts and his Lake District neighbours has highlighted a serious imbalance in the government’s plans to roll out superfast internet services to rural areas, a programme that has become a priority since the coronavirus forced so many routine activities online. Superfast internet access for all by 2025 was a key promise in the Tory manifesto last year.

Since March, BT has been obliged to offer upgraded services to anyone who asks and who is unable to receive a speed of at least a 10Mbps (megabits per second) — enough to watch Netflix and browse the internet without it constantly pausing to download.

Yet applicants from deeply rural areas — arguably the most in need of decent lockdown connections — are routinely quoted six-figure sums for installation, making the scheme useless for all but the wealthiest.

The average UK download speed is about 64Mbps. Roberts pays about £70 a month to BT for a service that stutters along at 1Mbps.

“It just buffers, so it’s impossible to watch,” he said. “A cousin wanted to send me a 20-minute video of a trip he had in Germany, but this took three hours to download.”

Roberts has also given up trying to do video calls with his family as the connection is so unreliable.

Under the USO scheme, launched on March 20, applicants can ask BT to conduct a survey to establish how much it might cost to connect their property to faster internet. If the cost is £3,400 or less, it will be covered by the company. Anything above this must be paid for by the applicant, leaving Roberts with a huge bill if he wants to upgrade.

BT blames the high cost on “challenging terrain such as rivers, forests, roads and railway lines” that make co-ordination “complex” in remote areas. It said the work required in such areas might involve “up to 30 people working over a number of months with heavy equipment to dig deep trenches”.

Isel has about 30 homes within the Lake District national park. Its residents are served by an ageing copper-wire service that often needs repairing. They receive only intermittent mobile phone signals.

Elaine Church, 60, another Isel resident, has seen her internet speeds drop as low as 0.2Mbps. She has also been quoted £502,000 for a faster connection. “I was naively optimistic that we might finally get something sorted for Isel,” said Church. “When I was told how much I must contribute, I just laughed. Who do they think can afford this?”

It hasn’t helped that the village of Blindcrake, 2½ miles away, has already been upgraded to full-fibre broadband as part of the national rollout — and residents did not have to pay a penny. “Why should it cost so much simply to connect us to a hub already installed there?” Church asked.

Lana Norman, 65, a retired gardener and farmer who lives in nearby Setmurthy, has no internet and was also quoted £500,000 for a connection. “Living with no internet and a poor mobile signal is not easy, especially with local bank branches closing,” she said. “When we use the mobile phone, you have to stand in the right place for it to work. I recently used it to watch my daughter at a sheep auction, but it’s intermittent. My mother, who is 91 and lives in Canada, has faster internet than me.”

Up to 590,000 UK properties do not receive the minimum 10Mbps speeds and so may be eligible for an upgrade under the USO. This is about 2% of all premises, according to Ofcom, the communications regulator. It has asked BT to address the question of six-figure installation costs “as a matter of urgency”.

The regulator said: “We’re concerned about the high amounts BT has quoted some people who request a broadband connection under the new universal service — particularly those who could share the connection costs with other homes in their area.”

BT acknowledged the costs under USO “can sometimes be significant”. Although separate estimates of £500,000 were provided to three Isel homes, the company said, it was looking at ways of sharing costs across the community. “We’re sorry for the disappointment the quotes have caused the residents,” BT added.

Other communities have raised funds to upgrade their own broadband, without the help of BT. Residents of Michaelston-y-Fedw, near Newport in Wales, clubbed together to boost speeds from about 8Mbps to 940Mbps, which is among the fastest in the UK.

The idea was hatched by David Schofield, 56, a retired repairer of electrical devices, and four other residents at a local pub. “We did everything ourselves, all the cabling, digging up the roads and connecting the cables to a Newport hub,” Schofield said.

They started digging in February 2018 and had their first connection in June that year. They now have about 240 customers who each pay about £30 a month. The freezing that afflicts Roberts’s television reception, however, is likely to extend deep into winter.


More on: Tory councillors in revolt over plans to accelerate housebuilding

A growing rebellion among Conservative councillors is threatening government plans to accelerate housebuilding in England with six out of 10 believing reforms will make planning less democratic.

Robert Booth

A survey across Tory heartlands has revealed party representatives are baulking at ministers’ plans to sharply increase housing targets in electoral strongholds like Hampshire and Surrey and are rejecting attempts to cut planning committees out of routine decision-making.

Conservative leaders in councils are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the plans which they fear could result in countryside being concreted over for housing and core voters deserting them in disgust.

Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire council told the Guardian demands for an extra 1,000 homes to be built a year in his country were “undesirable and undeliverable” while John Halsall, leader of Wokingham council said the proposals were “a huge political danger”. An internal presentation from Winchester council seen by the Guardian warns the proposals are “clearly designed to reduce [the] number and type of decisions taken locally”.

The concern is reflected in a poll this month by Savanta Comres of Conservative councillors, weighted towards those who sit on planning committees, which found 61% believe proposed reforms announced in August would make planning less democratic.

It was carried out on behalf of BECG, a planning communications firm, and showed that 70% of Tory councillors want to increase the size of the greenbelt, which appears to run contrary to government proposals that otherwise unprotected farm and open land could be zoned for construction.

Andrew Howard, the firm’s managing director, said: “If the government is going to deliver on its commitment to fundamentally reform the planning system, it is going to have to put in some serious spade work, to win round those Conservative councillors who provide the bedrock of their member of parliament’s constituency association and who clearly value their role in controlling development.”

The survey also found that two thirds of all councillors, including Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents, believe the majority of consultation with the public should happen on a proposal-by-proposal basis rather than when broad local plans are devised, as the planning white paper published last month proposes.

The planning reforms were unveiled in August by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, and immediately drew sharp criticism. Under the proposals, planning applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get an automatic green light – eliminating a whole stage of local oversight within designated zones. Land across England would be divided into three categories – for growth, renewal or protection – under what Jenrick, described as “once in a generation” changes to sweep away an outdated planning system and boost building.

But the proposals were immediately condemned by The Town and Country Planning Association as disruptive and rushed, and described as creating the “the next generation of slum housing” by the president of RIBA, Alan Jones.

The government’s parallel proposal to use an algorithm to set new housing targets for local areas in order to meet a national annual housebuilding target of 333,000 new homes has caused widespread concern. Analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, of the proposed method has shown that sharp increases are expected in many Tory heartlands. In Chichester, West Sussex the annual target would rise from 425 to 1,120, in Reigate, Surrey it would rise from 460 to 1,091 while in Tonbridge in Kent it would rise from 425 to 1,440.

“If they stick with the algorithm they are using at the moment there will be more building on greenfield and less on brownfield in northern cities and that’s a real concern,” said Cllr David Renard, Conservative leader of Swindon council and planning spokesman for the Local Government Association planning spokesman. “What local government would like to see is numbers based on local needs rather than some algorithm imposing numbers from above. We are hopeful the government will reshape their proposals. The planning system can be improved and we don’t think this is the right way to do it.”

The algorithm has proposed cuts to housing targets in many northern areas such as Lancaster, Preston and Blackburn with Darwen.

Halsall’s area in Wokingham, Berkshire, has been told its current target of 600 new homes per year will rise to 1,635 which he said was “very unpopular”.

“We are a rural and semi-rural area and our population has doubled in the last 20 years so everyone is suffering from congestion, development noise, medical services being rationed which [voters] attribute to the volume of development,” he said. “It’s nuts in planning terms and it’s nuts in political terms.”

A spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government described the opposition as “misguided”, saying community involvement and control is at the centre of its overhaul of an “outdated planning system”.

“While local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils they will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered in their areas,” they said. “We’re consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback we receive so we can deliver the homes we need, where we need them.”

On Wednesday parliament is set to vote on a Labour motion against a planning rule change to allow owners of blocks of flats to extend without seeking full planning permission.


Tory heartlands will have to find space for 1.5m new homes

Before reading this article Owl reminds readers that there are TWO consultations on planning reform. Closing dates are October 1 for “Changes to the current planning system” and October 31 for the White Paper “Planning for the Future”. The mutant algorithm features in the first. These are very technical consultations but a handful of questions are really crucial.

Anyone thinking of making a response, and Owl encourages this, might like to draw on the excellent briefing paper prepared for the EDDC Strategic Planning Committee of 16 September (starts at page 12 and gives proposed answers to questions). The Committee, with cross party support, agreed to reject the “ludicrous” algorithm.

By Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent and Dominic Penna 

Communities in large parts of the Conservatives’ traditional heartlands will have to find space for 1.5 million new homes under a “mutant” planning algorithm being considered by the Government.

The plans, reportedly the brainchild of Boris Johnson‘s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, will deliver an additional five million homes across England over the next 15 years, with nearly a third in rural counties.

The five million target is two million more than the targets already set out in local plans that had been democratically agreed by local councils, according to analysis by the House of Commons library.

Urban areas and communities largely in the north of England are largely let off the requirement for new homes, with shire counties hardest hit by the need for overbuilding, raising fears of a “concreting” over the South.

The analysis shows increases in annual housing forecasts compared to local plans of 181 per cent in east Sussex, 119 per cent in Kent, and 115 per cent in both Surrey and Gloucestershire.

The changes mean tens of thousands of extra homes over the next 15 years will be needed in rural counties like Kent (69,127 extra homes), Surrey (45,465 more homes) and Devon (32,782 additional homes).

The 34 local authorities with local plans that cover the Home Counties will see an average increase of 104 per cent compared with their already agreed local plans, some of which were already imposing stretching housing targets.

There is a different picture in urban centres and parts of northern England, with fewer homes required in Scarborough, Barnsley, Rotherham, Leeds, Nottingham and Lancaster.

Thirteen of the 20 areas that will see the biggest increases compared with the current local plans are represented by Conservative MPs. Tory Cabinet ministers whose constituencies have local plans will see an average increase in housing need of 84 per cent compared with current local plans, if the algorithm is adopted.

The ‘mutant algorithm’

The plans have already caused consternation among Tory MPs with a number lining up in the House of Commons pinning the blame on a “mutant algorithm” in a Commons debate two weeks ago.

Writing for the Telegraph, Tory MP Bob Seely, whose Isle of Wight constituency is seeing its housing target increase by 101 per cent compared to its local plan, said: “We all agree we need to build housing, but we need to build the right housing in the right places.

“The key fact is this: cities across England are being asked to build relatively less compared with the rural and suburban areas around them. Instead of levelling up the North, I fear we are concreting out the South”.

He added: “The algorithm row, which will worsen the more our constituents across England know about it, is an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound.

“Britons in the Red Wall seats will see little change in their communities as infrastructure cash goes to the shires. Shire voters will react with anger at swathes of greenfield planning.”

Fall of the Red Wall

Mr Seely said the plans would backfire adding: “Labour in the North will accuse Red Wall Tories of failure to deliver. Lib Dems in the South will claim to champion local democracy.

“As policies go, it’s a double-whammy of lose-lose. Only an algorithm could be this dumb.”

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, added: “Governing by algorithm simply doesn’t work. We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and we need many more well designed, genuinely affordable homes, including in rural areas. 

“But combining this algorithm with far reaching, untested reforms to local planning, could result in irreparable harm to our countryside, without delivering the housing we actually need. 

“Local authorities could be powerless to prevent developers cherry-picking green field sites whilst leaving brownfield land unused.”

Speculative figures

A Government source said: “These figures are purely speculative. We are consulting on the new proposed formula, which will only be the starting point in the process of planning new homes. 

“Councils will still consider local circumstances in deciding how many homes can be delivered in their areas including protecting the green belt, but we owe it to the next generation to build the homes that are needed across the country. 

“We won’t be deterred from meeting this challenge, but we’ll do it in a fair and sensitive way.”

In a Commons debate earlier this month, Andrew Griffith, Tory MP for Arundel and South Downs and a former Number 10 adviser to Mr Johnson, said that “well-meaning ministerial intent has been sabotaged by a ‘mutant algorithm’ cooked up in the wet market of Whitehall”.

A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman, added: “Local housing need proposals provide a guide for councils on how many homes may be needed in their area. Councils will still need to consider local circumstances to decide how many homes should be delivered.

“We’re consulting on the proposals and will reflect on the feedback we receive so we can deliver the homes we need, where we need them.”

How does the algorithm work?

The new algorithm will be introduced to counter what the Government calls “fundamental” issues with the current planning system, the basis of which was designed in 1947.

The algorithm will change the method used to assess each area’s local housing need in line with the Government’s target of delivering 300,000 new homes per year.

The baseline for the new method is either 0.5 per cent of the current housing stock in a local authority, or the most up-to-date projection for annual household growth in the next 10 years, whichever is higher.

The method is then adjusted to consider changes in how affordable houses have been in the last 10 years.

This is to reflect the aim of the algorithm, essentially to create more homes in areas where they are currently less affordable.

Unlike the previous method, the new algorithm does not put a limit on the increase that can take place in a local authority. Instead, the documents argue that a “step change” is needed to create as many homes as it deems necessary.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the system is “unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War”.