James Forsyth

Can Boris build support for his planning reforms?

Can Boris build support for his planning reforms?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Picture credit: Getty
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The government always knew it would have to expend political capital to get its planning reforms through. Making it easier to build houses was never going to be popular with Tories in leafy areas. The benefit of an 80-seat majority was meant to be the ability to push through difficult but important changes. The problem is, as I say in the magazine this week, that the government has been expending political capital on rather a lot of other things recently.

Tory MPs are in a fractious mood, irritated by the number of U-turns, and opposition to planning reform is beginning to build up. One normally mild-mannered former cabinet minister tells me: ‘If you think A-levels were bad, wait until people get their heads round these reforms.’

The government will try and take some of the heat out of the issue by refining the algorithm to determine housing needs, which is currently causing particular irritation among Tory MPs – there is a worry it’ll lead to too much housebuilding in the Tory shires. But the government won’t deny the need to build in areas where affordability is worst.

The recent U-turns have sent out a message that this government responds to pressure. So quite a few Tory MPs will now seek to apply that pressure over planning. The government mustn’t buckle, though. It needs to demonstrate that it will use its majority to enact change. To back down now would send an awful message: that even its most important policies can be dropped. And then the accusations of incompetence might really start to stick.