What the Tory leadership contenders have in store for planning

As the crowded Tory leadership contest kicks off, we examine what the contenders to be the next Prime Minister might have said about planning and housing.

Downing Street: battle on in Tory ranks to become new Prime Minister
Downing Street: battle on in Tory ranks to become new Prime Minister

Theresa May’s emotional resignation speech last month has sparked a packed race to lead the Tory party and the country. At the time of publication, there are 11 MPs with their hats into the ring, after James Cleverley and planning minister Kit Malthouse withdrew from the contest. Here’s what we know about the main runners and riders’ stance on planning matters.

Boris Johnson

During his eight-year tenure as London mayor, Boris Johnson used his call-in powers 19 times. Every one of his 17 decisions at the Greater London Authority (GLA) went in favour of the developer, with two call-in decisions passed on to his successor Sadiq Khan. Ghislaine Halpenny, director of strategy and external affairs at lobby group the British Property Federation, said of Johnson: "He was very much seen as being a friend of the [development] sector. He presided over some of the greatest levels of densification ever seen."

"If Boris becomes PM, don’t be surprised if he brushes off his old mayoral contact book and gives even more influential roles to Homes England chairman Sir Eddie Lister and [former deputy mayor for housing] Rick Blakeway," said Andrew Howard, managing director at built environment communications consultancy BECG. 

Johnson, the favourite to succeed May, is also well-known for radical planning ideas, including his support for a Thames Estuary airport, the Thames Garden Bridge and, more recently, a bridge between England and France. Johnson was also a staunch defender of green belt protection when London mayor.

Michael Gove

In 2013, Michael Gove leapt to the defence of the then newly-introduced National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), claiming that it would "make it easier for more homes of a larger size to be built for children". "And that’s why," he added, "when people oppose these planning reforms, I think they're actually standing in the way of helping our children to grow tall." 

Gove has criticised NIMBYism and claimed that building more homes in the countryside could add to its beauty. As environment secretary he has introduced a biodiversity net gain requirement from development and in December he announced an Office for Environmental Protection would be created to uphold environmental legislation. Hannah David, director at the Planning Futures think tank, said Gove’s likely approach to planning shares certain similarities with Johnson’s. "Both clearly support interventions by the state in the built environment to create better, more sustainable places," she said.

Dominic Raab

Dominic Raab spent just six months as housing and planning minister in 2018 before taking up the post as Brexit secretary. During that time, he launched a review of the rules around unauthorised gypsy and traveller sites, seeking to streamline the process of taking enforcement action. Raab also called for a probe into the link between immigration and housing demand after claiming that "immigration put house prices up by something like 20 per cent" over 25 years. He also called for higher design standards for housing.

In his leadership pitch, Raab called for radical reforms to the housing market to fulfil the "dream of the UK as a property-owning democracy". He has previously spoken favourably of efforts to "be more creative" in tackling the housing crisis, such as allowing permitted development rights for upward extensions. "We’re going to build the homes we need," he said, "whilst protecting our precious green belt". Despite his protectionist green belt stance - his Esher and Walton constituency in Surrey is more than half green belt - David said: "As one of the most libertarian MPs in parliament, Raab is perhaps the most likely candidate to accelerate deregulation within the planning system."

The other Tory leadership contenders

In his two years as housing secretary, Sajid Javid was a staunch advocate of building more  homes. While he threatened central government intervention against councils seen to be stalling over local plans, Javid also turned his fire on developers for taking too long to build out permissions and on so-called NIMBYs for blocking development.

Stints as energy secretary and then environment secretary saw Andrea Leadsom emerge as a vocal opponent of wind farms. Leadsom previously pledged to review the High Speed Two (HS2) rail project during her 2016 Tory leadership run.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt described regional housing targets under Labour as "flawed policy and flawed democracy" and assured constituents that the NPPF would give communities "more power not less". As culture secretary, he rejected calls to list the Broadgate estate in London.

New international development secretary Rory Stewart has long been a supporter of greater community involvement in planning and has called for citizens to have a say in the look and layout as well as the location of homes. In 2013, he endorsed the UK’s first neighbourhood plan to be approved in a referendum in his Cumbrian constituency.

Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey recently complained to the Local Government Ombudsman after constituents raised concerns about a perceived lack of planning enforcement action by Cheshire West and Chester Council against a cement works. She opposes HS2.

During an 18-month stint as culture secretary, Matt Hancock, now health secretary, welcomed efforts to improve rural connectivity through planning reform and said the revised NPPF would help restore "the British dream of home ownership". He was also energy minister between 2014 and 2015.

Writing in support of the Northern Powerhouse initiative last year, Mark Harper called for "economic growth, jobs and development" to be spread across the country and said doing so "would reduce the pressure on the housing stock in London and the surrounding counties".

Former minister Sam Gyimah has campaigned against the loss of green belt in his East Surrey constituency. He has said housing development "must be influenced by local people, taking into account the styles of our towns and villages, our history and our unique environment".

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