Vote on Levelling Up Bill axed as Tory gets 46 supporters for rebel amendment to scrap housing targets

Michael Gove has backed down on a key vote on planning reforms in the face of backbench Tory rebels who have called for the government to scrap housing targets and the presumption in favour of development.

The housing secretary yesterday decided to pull votes on the bill after amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill filed by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers gathered nearly 50 Conservative backers including a raft of former senior ministers.

While government sources said the votes on the bill’s report stage, originally earmarked for Monday, had been pulled due to pressures on parliamentary time, a rebellion of 47 – the number supporting Villiers’ central amendment – would be enough to defeat the government given Labour support.

theresa villiers

Villiers has secured 46 backers for her amendments designed to scrap housing targets

Villiers’s amendment is titled the “prohibition of mandatory targets and abolition of five-year land supply rule”, and is designed to ensure that any housebuilding targets “may only be advisory and not mandatory” and “should not be taken into account in determining planning applications”. It also calls for the scrapping of the requirement for councils to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.

Villiers and her core supporters, MPs Bob Seely, Greg Smith, Maria Miller, and former leader Iain Duncan Smith, have filed 21 amendments to the Levelling Up bill in total, including proposals to drop the presumption in favour of sustainable development in national policy, allow councils to ban greenfield development, and institute a third party right of appeal in the planning system.

Supporters of the plan to drop housing targets include high profile MPs and former ministers John Redwood, Priti Patel, Chris Grayling and former housing minister Esther McVey.

The government will now go ahead with the planned debates on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill today and Monday in the House of Commons, however, yesterday’s decision means the debates will no longer proceed to a vote on the amendments which had been scheduled for Monday.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said no date had been scheduled for a vote on the bill.

The decision means that government amendments tabled at the start of the week to bring in street votes, give councils new powers to refuse developments, and to force water companies to upgrade waste water treatment works will also not be voted on.

On Monday Gove told MPs that he wanted to see more of the 300,000 homes needed each year built in towns and cities. He said: “Whatever figures you arrive at nationally, and how it’s broken down authority by authority, a greater proportion of housing need should be met in urban areas and on brownfield sites.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will help to deliver the right homes in the right places, putting local decision making at the heart of planning decisions and make sure new development is supported by communities and protects the environment.

“We will continue to engage with stakeholders and MPs as the Bill progresses through Parliament.”