In response to worries of a ‘blue wall’ revolt, Boris Johnson has indicated a U-turn on planning reforms.
During his speech at the Tory Party conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson hinted at a fundamental shift in government policy on planning and housing construction.
The Prime Minister sought to reassure Conservative voters in the “blue wall” heartlands of the country that new homes would not be built on greenfield sites. In its 2019 manifesto, the government promised to build 300,000 homes per year. The Cabinet devised plans to revamp the planning process in order to assist in meeting the goal.
This would have resulted in a new “zonal” system in which permissions for development sites would be automatically approved.
Many Conservative MPs, particularly those representing rural districts in the South East, were critical of the plans, fearing that they would lead to more house building on greenfield lands.
Senior Tory MPs blamed a voter backlash against the measures in the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June for the party’s subsequent crushing defeat.
The Liberal Democrats won the by-election with an 8,000-vote lead, wiping out the Conservatives’ 16,000-vote majority.
Mr Johnson appeared to hint in his conference speech that the government’s focus would now be on increasing construction on brownfield sites.
“You can also see how much room there is in this country to build the homes that young families need, not on green fields, not simply jammed in the South East, but magnificent homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense,” he told the party faithful.
In his 45-minute speech, the Prime Minister painted a positive picture of a post-Brexit Britain.
He imagined a future economy in which high-skilled jobs with high earnings would be created, and he promised to “unleash” the British people’s “unique spirit.”
Mr Johnson also praised the NHS and warned against history being rewritten by a “know-nothing cancel culture.”
Many rightwing academics and commentators, on the other hand, were ambivalent about the Prime Minister’s speech.
The Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank, called the speech “bombastic but vapid and economically stupid.”
“There was nothing new in this speech, no compelling new vision or policy,” Ryan Shorthouse, the chief executive of the Bright Blue think group, told The Guardian.