It is now increasingly clear that several Conservative opponents of the Government’s now-former planning reforms were arguing in bad faith.
Having urged everyone to trust the existing planning system, Bob Seely et al are now demanding that the Government overrule it, and step in to scrap hundreds of thousands of existing planning permissions.
So much for the charge that Britain already had sufficient housebuilding if only dastardly developers would stop land-banking, I guess.
Meanwhile the idea that housing would be acceptable if only it were thoughtfully designed, environmentally conscious, and took care to add to the community has been scotched by the reaction to Prince Charles’ proposals for a new neighbourhood in Faversham.
His plans include a new market street, a new school, and other additions intended to produce a well-rounded community that generates employment. It will be build on a handful of unremarkable fields adjoining a motorway. But its ‘greenfield’, and predictably has the usual cast of local residents – who all already have homes of their own, of course – up in arms.
It is all very well calling on the Prime Minister to “smash the Grey Wall“. It would certainly be just, and in the long-term interests of the nation, for him to do so.
But the electoral logic does not stack up. Perhaps if the progressive parties were stood foursquare behind the interests of future generations, the Government might have room to manoeuvre. But the Chesham & Amersham by-election clearly shows that if going full “Keep Little Whingeing Special” is what it takes to return Liberal Democrat MPs, that’s what the Lib Dems will do.
Even for Labour, the only path to a secure majority in Westminster lies in winning over homeowning Boomers. There may be an Opposition leader who could work out how to deliver a progressive government in a country dominated by a coalition of deeply un-progressive electoral interests, but it doesn’t look like Sir Keir Starmer is it.
Hence the clearest and most intellectually-honest definition of ‘levelling up’ we heard at the Conservative Party Conference was Boris Johnson explaining that it was about trying to avoid the need to ruin the views of people in Britain’s wealthiest villages.
Faced with this, it isn’t obvious that there is anything Michael Gove can do except resort to the usual Tory coping mechanism and pretending that we don’t have a supply problem. Pump a bit more demand in, design some expedited pathways to subsidised ownership for favoured groups, and hope that ‘levelling up’ can work such a miracle that we no longer need millions of new homes in the South. (It won’t). In the meantime, Tory MPs will decry high-rise, high-density developments whilst also prohibiting ‘sprawl’.
All the while the Conservative Party will continue to strangle its electoral base by pricing a growing cohort of working-age voters out of home-ownership and family formation, and erode its majorities in seats within commuting distance of London as more people are forced out of the capital by high prices. More Brightons, more Canterburys.
Let’s be clear: in a country with a growing population, the idea that we should never again build on undeveloped land is insane. If the Government capitulates on ‘brownfield only’, the Conservatives will thoroughly deserve the electoral reckoning they are storing up for themselves. Even if it comes too late for yet another generation of would-be homeowners.