Farron and Hobhouse condemn planning bill as Tories fail to vote

The Tories aren’t revolting, at least over planning. Yesterday evening, they were told not to vote in the opposition debate over the planning bill. Yet it was clear from the debate that many remained unhappy with the proposals which contributed to the historic defeat in Chesham and Amersham.

The debate lasted for just over three hours and 17 members did not get the chance to speak. All twelve Lib Dems voted for the opposition motion. There were no votes against as the Tories went into hiding at the end of the debate. Many of them might not like the planning reforms but they are certainly not going to be brave enough to defy a whip and vote against them.

Wera Hobhouse and Tim Farron spoke for the Lib Dems.

Tim Farron told MPs:

Probably the most bogus claim made for the Government’s planning reforms is that they will lead to more homes. Exactly the opposite is true. Their reforms will incentivise the building of fewer, unaffordable, expensive properties rather than the more affordable homes we want.

The Government’s plan… is to allow developers to build a smaller number of executive homes that we do not need, rather than the larger number of affordable homes that we do need. That is against the will and wishes of many people who live in communities around London, in Cumbria and elsewhere in the country… My challenge to Conservative Members is: “Do you care for your communities? Are you listening to yours? If so, you should have the courage of your convictions and vote with us in the Lobby tonight.”

Let me say more about the planning reforms. It is about not just what is wrong with them but what is not in them. Yes, they will lead to fewer affordable homes and cut local communities out of the planning process—it is an insult to the electorate not to listen to them and allow them to have their say—but the reforms are also a colossal missed opportunity…

Over many years in places such as the lakes and the Yorkshire dales, there has been a steady erosion of local affordable homes for our communities. We see our communities become ghost towns as a large number and growing proportion of homes in those communities become second homes and holiday lets, leaving us without a vibrant permanent population…

I suggest that the Secretary of State amends planning law to make holiday lets and second homes separate categories of planning use, so that local authorities and national parks can say, “Enough is enough”…

Wera Hobhouse said:

These planning reforms are the biggest change to the planning system since 1947, yet this White Paper is a jumbled series of aspirations and statements that do not amount to a coherent document….

There is no evidence that the reforms will actually make any difference to the number of homes being built… More than one million homes that have been granted planning permission in the last decade have yet to be built. If the Government are trying to address the housing crisis, this is completely the wrong answer.

Any review of England’s planning system must consider not only the delivery of housing, but the many roles that planning authorities play in creating great spaces for their communities: connectivity, accessibility, affordability, access to green spaces, schools and infrastructure provision. All those things contribute to ensuring quality of life in our communities, as, indeed, does the quality of housing we build.

Every new home should be built with the climate and ecological emergency in mind…

The current proposals are an assault on democracy, and the emphatic Lib Dem win in Chesham and Amersham—fought on issues of local democracy—should be a wake-up call for this Government. The right of local communities to have a say over planning in their area must be protected.

Planning has a vital role to play in our response to the climate emergency, both in achieving net zero and in adapting to climate change which is already happening. It is critical in delivering the homes we need to end the housing crisis, and in delivering the infrastructure and services to support new residents. It is vital for economic development and the delivery of green jobs. At its most basic level, planning should be a framework for fairness. It should ensure that new development delivers what communities need, not what makes the most profit, and it should safeguard the things that they hold most dear. There is no doubt that our planning system is in need of reform, but this White Paper takes entirely the wrong approach.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Helen Dudden 22nd Jun '21 - 11:12am

    We desperately need more accessible homes, category 2 and 3.
    With the recent highlighting on the ITV programme of the performance of some Housing Associations, most certainly something has to change. I think Grenfell was a shocking example of what should not be happening.
    The reporting of a visually impaired mans fight for decent housing, after his dog was removed, as the property was not good enough to keep the dog.
    Habinteg are working to improve on the letting of category 3 homes, a separate register so that these homes in fact go to those who need them, they have in the past gone to the next on the list.

  • Two Conservative MPs did vote for the motion, and against instructions – Ann Marie Morris (Newton Abbot – elected in 2010) and William Wragg (Hazel Grove – elected in 2015). Neither of these MPs come to minds as regular rebels.

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