After a few weeks of stability for the Sunak administration, rumblings have begun to grow again, this time about planning reform and the Levelling Up Bill. The bill was due back in the House of Commons this week for the report stage, which allows MPs to suggest amendments to the legislation and to vote on those amendments that have the most support or have been selected by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
This is a relatively straightforward process in the legislative cycle. MPs typically place amendments knowing it is unlikely they will pass a vote if the Government has a strong enough majority but want to either pressure the government into a rethink or to highlight areas that have not been considered properly when the bill was first introduced.
Amendments typically only pass if they are accepted by the government as necessary or have been put forward as government-supported changes to the bill.
This past week has seen a more unusual series of events emerge from the standard process described above. The Levelling Up Bill, which has been much delayed due to the transition between governments, was due to reach the report stage on Wednesday, where the proposed changes would have been debated in the House of Commons chamber.
This stage was pulled by the government because of the increasing momentum behind amendments placed by former Defra secretary Theresa Villiers. These amendments focus on removing housing targets, prioritisation of local plans over new national planning policies, and allowing for more appeals on planning applications. I dislike using the term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), but the amendments led by Villiers and her supporters could be labelled with that accusation.
Many of the MPs in support of these amendments are facing constituency pressures to be anti-development. However, allowing these amendments will create stagnation in the planning system across the county and prevent the sustainable development that many rural areas need. The amendments are all creating headaches for the Conservative party as a whole. Traditional conservative commentators are coming out against these amendments and it is proving dire for the party in terms of polling among the under the under 40s who are struggling to enter the housing market.
With the bill pulled from being debated in the House of Commons, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will have time to see what concessions can be offered to the rebels without diminishing his ambition to see the planning system made less complicated.
The CLA is frustrated by these amendments. Much of the work we did with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rural Business and the Rural Powerhouse highlighted the essential need to make the planning system easier to prevent the decline of villages and allow people to remain in the areas where they grew up.
No one wants to see the countryside concreted over, but likewise, no one wants the village pub or shop to close due to the lack of sustainable growth. I, along with my colleagues, will be working hard to brief MPs on the changes required to the Levelling Up Bill and why some of the proposed amendments could cause more harm than good.