Government ‘out of touch’ with own MPs on new planning system

More than half of Conservative MPs (55%) on the backbenches are considering opposing the government’s upheaval of the planning system, and almost nine in ten (88%) backbench Conservative MPs believe local people should have a say over specific planning applications in their community.

More than half of Conservative MPs (55%) on the backbenches are considering opposing the government’s upheaval of the planning system in the upcoming Planning White Paper, according to new research from CPRE, the countryside charity.

The government has indicated that it is in the process of rethinking the housing algorithm element of the planning proposals, which is welcome. But today’s research shows that Conservative MPs have concerns with other key elements of the government’s changes to planning.

While the damaging changes to planning would hand more power to developers, over three quarters (78%) of backbench Conservative MPs surveyed think large housebuilders will not provide good quality, well-designed development unless they are kept under rigorous scrutiny to deliver the homes and spaces communities need.

The survey, conducted by Savanta ComRes, quizzed 40 backbench Conservative MPs (17% of total) with constituencies in England on their opinions of the government’s changes to the planning system and what impacts they would have on local democracy, locally valued green spaces, action to tackle the climate emergency and affordable homes.

The proposals have already faced fierce opposition from local councillors, local communities, MPs, former Cabinet Ministers and even the former Prime Minister Theresa May MP.

Today’s results continue that trend finding that:

  • Local democracy: Almost nine in ten (88%) backbench Conservative MPs believe local people should have a say over specific planning applications and specific development sites in their community. What the government is suggesting would completely remove that right;
  • Green space: Two thirds of MPs quizzed (63%) believe that the changes will result in increased pressure to build homes on green space close to where people live;
  • Role of developers: Over three quarters (78%) of MPs surveyed do not think large housebuilders are always fair and transparent with local people. But the government’s reforms will give them more power in the planning system.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘It’s clear the government needs to get back in touch with its own MPs. In the face of a national lockdown, protecting and enhancing green space close to where people live has never been more important. From Cornwall to Carlisle, MP’s, local councillors, communities and local CPRE groups are raising the alarm and the message is clear – dismantling the planning system will not deliver thriving countryside communities, more homes people can afford to live in and greater access to green space.

‘However, it is encouraging to see ministers are in listening mode and we urge them to go beyond quick-fix changes to the housing algorithm, to make sure that people, nature and the countryside are at the heart of the planning system. To avoid pitting local communities and MPs against the government, we’re urging ministers to secure the voice of local people in their planning proposals, protect and enhance local green space and ensure that the duty for developers to build social homes remains the same.

‘In the face of grave challenges, we’re calling on ministers to step up, learn the lessons of lockdown and deliver the homes and places that support healthy, vibrant communities.’

The planning system is a toolbox to create places that improve our health and wellbeing, tackle the climate and nature emergencies while building the number of homes communities need; at the pace we need them. It is clear that many backbench Conservative MPs agree and further results found:

  • Over nine in ten (93%) of backbench Conservative MPs think large housebuilders should provide the kind of houses that local people need and can afford;
  • Nearly half (48%) of MPs who responded believe the government should set a more ambitious target for new homes to be zero-carbon;
  • Three quarters of (75%) of backbench Conservative MPs think large housebuilders should build in the locations that local people want to see developed;
  • Over three quarters (78%) of MPs surveyed think it is important that local councils should choose and prioritise the most suitable development site which is something a new zonal planning system would exclude.

The MPs surveyed clearly see an important role for local democracy and accountability in the planning system calling into question the government’s damaging changes to planning. CPRE, the countryside charity, is campaigning for a democratic, locally-led planning system that will deliver genuinely affordable homes, tackle the climate and nature emergencies while providing more access to green space for everyone.

The full set of results can be found here.

Notes to editors

Savanta ComRes interviewed 40 backbench Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) online and through paper surveys from the 5th October to 6th November 2020. Unweighted sample represents 17% of backbench Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Please call our Media Relations Lead, Jonathan Jones, on 07739 332 796 for further information.