Andrew Lewer unhappy with party’s approach to the issue
The chair of the all-party parliamentary group for small and medium-sized (SME) housebuilders has criticised his party’s public rhetoric on housing development.
Speaking at the launch of the Federation of Master Builders’ latest survey of members yesterday, Andrew Lewer MP said the Conservative Party had overreacted to the 2021 Chesham and Amersham by-election, which saw the Liberal Democrats take the seat from the party amid over proposed changes to the planning system.
Lewer, a strong advocate for new housebuilding, said he was “very unhappy” at some of the leaflets he was asked to hand out in the recent Mid Bedfordshire by-election, which he perceived as being anti-development.
“It was essentially saying our target market is somebody who is 80 years old, owns their own home and hates kids - I think we can do better than that,” he said.
The MP for Northampton South also criticised the government for revolving politicians through the housing minister role.
Last month, incumbent Rachel Maclean was shuffled out of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to make way for Lee Rowley, who took the position for the second time in his career.
Rowley, a former construction minister, is the 16th housing minister since the Conservatives took charge.
“Rachel [Maclean] hasn’t been very well treated to be honest with this latest reshuffle,” said Lewer.
“What I will say is that when there were big reshuffles in the 1950s, the questions would be who is the new chancellor? Who is the new foreign secretary? Who is the new housing minister?
“The answer in that period was Harold Macmillan and it was his stepping stone to being prime minister”.
By contrast, he said the role was currently an afterthought in reshuffles and added that “unless that radically changes” then housing and planning regulation would continue come after other policy priorities.
While criticising anti-development rhetoric, he defended local councillors who block housing schemes, explaining that they are “placed in an invidious position” by the “fundamental disconnect” between public perceptions of the planning process and what it actually is.
People think it’s a “democratic, opinion-based process” rather than a “quasi-judicial”, he said, meaning councillors are worried about losing their jobs over decisions they do not have meaningful control over.
He added that he had been “hugely enthused” by Robert Jenrick’s 2020 proposals to reform planning and had been disappointed by the opposition of his colleagues.
Jenrick’s zonal system would have seen automatic permission granted for development in certain areas.