Boris Johnson is facing a mounting Tory rebellion over radical plans to ‘concrete over’ rural Britain to build more homes as senior back-benchers blame the policy on a ‘mutant algorithm’.
Senior Tory backbenchers are said to have warned the Prime Minister that the proposals to build 300,000 homes a year will spell electoral doom for the party.
They are concerned that the plans, in their current form, include more house building for Tory-supporting shires and less development in Labour-supporting cities.
Leaked analysis of a proposed new national housing formula reveals Tory-run local authorities outside London overall should deliver more than 30,600 extra houses every year.
In contrast, Labour-run town halls would be asked to deliver 1,500 fewer homes each year.
Areas such as Oxford, Epsom and Ewell, Sevenoaks and the Isle of Wight could all see a surge in house building, while Salford, Newcastle and Liverpool would see a large decrease.
The warning comes as around 30 Tory MPs are said to have joined a WhatsApp group aimed at opposing the plans, reports The Sunday Times.
Boris Johnson faces a mounting Tory revolt over radical plans to boost house building amid claims the ‘disastrous’ policy could spell doom for his party
They have accused housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, who is leading the plans, of ‘concreting out, not leveling up’ with the planned reforms, reports the paper.
Last night, senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin signalled he would not vote for the plans – warning that imposing more homes on England’s green spaces amounted to a ‘circle of doom for rural areas in the Home Counties’.
He was joined by Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen, who said ‘concreting over’ rural areas was a ‘timebomb’ for the Tories which would go off in the approach to the next General Election.
The areas set to be most affected by the housing plans
These are the five areas facing the biggest rise in house building in terms of percentage per year under the plans, according to analysis circulated by MPs, reports in the Sunday Times today.
Three Rivers (Hertfordshire): +292%
Eastbourne (East Sussex): + 274%
Epsom and Ewell (Surrey): +266%
Thurrock (Essex): +263%
Oxford (Oxfordshire): +262%
These are the five areas facing the biggest decrease in house building in terms of percentage per year under the plans:
Salford (Greater Manchester): -59%
Newcastle upon Tyne: -56%
Leeds and Manchester: Both -30%
Former Minister Caroline Nokes also urged Ministers to rethink the proposals.
But one Cabinet Minister told The Mail on Sunday that the Government would not back down, insisting the need to provide more homes was fundamental to Mr Johnson’s vision.
Last month, the Prime Minister unveiled a ‘once-in-a-generation’ planning reform to speed up the delivery of new homes across England by restricting the power of local councils to oppose new development.
However, the plans were accompanied by a new formula of recalculating where housing developments would go that critics have branded a ‘mutant algorithm’ cousin of the methodology which led to this summer’s exams results chaos.
More than 30 Tory MPs have now joined a rebel WhatsApp group to co-ordinate opposition to the plans.
Messages leaked to The Sunday Times from the rebel WhatsApp group, include one, which said: ‘This is lighting a slow fuse for an explosion … when our constituents see that we are fast-tracking housing developments in all the wrong places.’
Another added: ‘This is the equivalent of Gavin Williamson’s disastrous exams algorithm fiasco.’
The MoS can reveal that outside London, the draft formula would mean asking Tory-run councils to provide more homes every year compared to Labour authorities.
Bob Seely, the Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, told The Sunday Times: ‘Take my constituency … the proposals will see our target increased by more than 100%.
‘Half the island is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, yet we will be ordered to build more houses a year than either Portsmouth or Southampton, both cities with major infrastructure and services, and populations almost 70% larger.’
He added: ‘It won’t help our young, either. Increasing house building does not necessarily result in increased affordability.’
Essex MP Sir Bernard claimed that as the new algorithm was based on population growth, it would simply keep adding more houses to local authorities that were already building them.
Robert Jenrick (pictured left), who is leading the plans, of ‘concreting out, not leveling up’ with the planned reforms, reports The Sunday Times. Isle of Wight Conservative MP Bob Seely (pictured right) has raised his opposition to the plans
Mr Bridgen, MP for North-West Leicestershire, said the formula for deciding the housing plans was a ‘mutant algorithm’
Last night, senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin (pictured left) signalled he would not vote for the plans – warning that imposing more homes on England’s green spaces amounted to a ‘circle of doom for rural areas in the Home Counties’. Romsey MP Caroline Nokes (pictured right) cast doubt on plans to reduce local councils’ power over housing allocation
That would create ‘a circle of doom for rural areas in the Home Counties’, with more development in rural areas and potentially less on brownfield sites in urban areas, he said.
Sir Bernard added: ‘I am not inclined to vote for a relaxation of the planning laws to make things easier for the mega-housebuilders when the real problem is a failure of local authority and powers to ensure that the right houses are built in the right places.’
He also warned that even if the Government pressed ahead with the current plans, ‘it will generate such an adverse reaction that in the end it will be stopped in its tracks’.
Mr Bridgen, MP for North-West Leicestershire, said: ‘I cannot countenance a formula based on some mutant algorithm that seems set on concreting over our remaining green space and rural areas, but bizarrely spares inner-city and urban brownfield areas.’
Romsey MP Caroline Nokes cast doubt on plans to reduce local councils’ power over housing allocation, saying: ‘The A-levels fiasco has rammed home the message that machine learning and algorithms are a poor substitute for practical experience.
‘The algorithm deployed to generate housing numbers appears to be a triumph of mathematics over common sense.’
Housing Ministry sources insisted last night that any new local allocation figures were currently only estimates as final decisions were yet to be made.
But a Ministry spokesman said: ‘The current formula for local housing need is inconsistent with our aim to deliver 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s, and so we are committed to reviewing it at this year’s Budget.’