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Tory MP Compares Planning System To “A Scene From The Thick Of It”

The government is likely to again miss their target of building 300,000 new homes this year (Alamy)

4 min read

Former Conservative housing minister Brandon Lewis has said the UK's planning system means that the process to get permission for new developments resembles a scene from satirical TV programme “The Thick of It”.

Lewis, the MP for Great Yarmouth, was minister of state for housing under David Cameron, one of 15 people to have the job since 2010. He felt it was “ridiculous” to have had so many ministers in the role, and that the department needed “more stability” to function properly and get to grips with a complex policy area.

He told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that he has “been very frustrated for a period now” with his party’s policies on housebuilding, with the government believed to be well behind on its annual target to create 300,000 new homes each year.

He said that the Tories needed to make “a big bold offer” on housing if they were to win back voters ahead of the general election, which must be called before the end of next year. He argued that there was a strong economic case as well as a political motive to build more homes, noting that every 100,000 new homes built can add 1 per cent to the UK’s GDP output.

Lewis believed if any government is to tackle the shortage of new homes, both in the private rental market, social housing and properties for sale, the planning system was where the focus needs to be.

“What I find particularly disappointing is not just we're going to miss the 300,000, but it's dropped off dramatically,” he explained

“This year we're going to see maybe 150,000 in the 12 months from where we are now roughly, it could easily drop to 100,000 homes, which means you haven't then just got to build 250,000-plus again, you’ve got another backlog to make up.

"That's partly because we haven't been putting the support in which is a large part of the new build market. 

“When you talk to individuals, and experiences they've had anecdotally around the country, it's like a scene from The Thick of It  –  what they have to go through to get planning permission even for very popular developments.”

Brandon Lewis
Former housing minister Brandon Lewis (Parliament.UK)

He said it was “astonishing” that for the first time in five decades or more there are high interest rates and low housing supply “but yet not a single product out there to directly help first time homebuyers get on the housing ladder”. He hoped that the government looks at doing more in this area.

Lewis argued that despite suggestions that voters, especially Conservative-leaning, do not like to see more development, if you are “building the right homes in the right places with proper engagement, it's popular”, as it appeals to existing homeowners who want to see the next generation get on the housing ladder.

“My kids are both older than I was when I got my first home, and they're nowhere near being able to afford their first home. And that is a real challenge for us,” he added.

Housing campaigners were dismayed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not mention housing in his party conference speech, and last week’s Autumn Statement only included modest reforms in this area.

Lewis agreed there’s “limited parliamentary time” to pass new legislation before the country next goes to the polls, but he argued a lot can be done with the existing bills on the statute book, it just requires investment and the will to unlock the planning system.

“I think it is hugely important, because ultimately we want people to vote Conservative for many, many years,” Lewis said. 

“We need my kids today and their friends as much as my generation and older generations to see that we have something to offer. 

“Housing is key to that, not least of all, because people want to know they can have a roof over their head.”


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