Anger over ‘developers’ charter’ planning reforms could cost Boris Johnson blue wall seats, warns Ed Davey

Exclusive: ‘Tide of dissatisfaction’ spreading beyond by-election battleground, says Lib Dem leader

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 07 July 2021 01:12 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Boris Johnson risks forfeiting swathes of Tory votes across the so-called Blue Wall seats of southern England with planning reforms which amount to a developers’ charter threatening cherished green spaces, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey is warning.

In his first major speech since his party’s stunning by-election victory in Chesham and Amersham last month, Sir Ed will say that the  “wrong-headed” reforms have created a “strong tide of dissatisfaction” with the government in traditional Tory heartlands already uneasy with Mr Johnson’s approach on business and the environment.

And he will make clear that Lib Dem strategists believe the Buckinghamshire constituency - which fell out of Tory hands for the first time with a remarkable 25 per cent swing to Davey’s party - was not a one-off, and that the prime minister risks seeing other bricks in the Blue Wall topple.

Speaking to the Local Government Association conference on Wednesday, Davey will say:  “From planning to potholes, from businesses to the environment, there is a strong tide of dissatisfaction with this government on a whole range of issues across the Blue Wall.

“Conservative MPs might kid themselves that this unhappiness is confined to Chesham and Amersham, but we know better.

“Liberal Democrats won that by-election by listening carefully to people’s concerns: about their families, their communities and our precious natural environment.

“Now Boris Johnson must do the same – and he should start by ditching his ill-thought-through and undemocratic planning reforms.”

Sir Ed will insist he is not a nimby, declaring that “we absolutely do need to get more homes built”.

But he will warn that the government’s reforms do “nothing” for young families and first-time buyers desperate for a home of their own, while stopping communities from protecting green spaces.

“The reforms would take power away from communities and individuals and hand it to wealthy property developers – including, incidentally, the ones who donated £11m to the Conservative Party last year,” he will say.

“From removing the requirement on developers to include affordable homes in their plans, to taking away people’s current right to object to specific development proposals, his planning reforms would allow developers to build big, expensive houses for the wealthy and maximise their profits, rather than build the homes people and communities actually need.”

Sir Ed will call for an extension of the neighbourhood plans pioneered by Liberal Democrat ministers during the coalition government of 2010-15, which he said were allowing local people to help shape their communities by setting targets on priorities like affordable homes to rent, sustainable homes and the protection of green spaces.

“Developers don’t like neighbourhood plans,” he will say. “Which probably explains why this Conservative government’s planning reforms would massively restrict their potential. So once again, local people’s voices would be ignored.

“Don’t let Boris Johnson con you into thinking it’s a choice between his plan and no plan. Between the wrong homes in the wrong places and no homes at all.

“There is a better way. A way to genuinely tackle the housing crisis while safeguarding our natural environment and putting power where it belongs: in the hands of individuals and their local communities.”

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