A nimby? A banana? Not me, says star backbencher: HENRY DEEDES sees Labour sow division as developers lick their chops
Few issues get voters’ undergarments in quite so much of a tangle as planning law. The mere prospect of a garish new housing estate blighting a homeowner’s view can turn polite, sandal-wearing men into barroom brawlers, or shy and retiring women into hot-breathed chimeras.
So it is fair to say the Government’s planned reforms, which it claims will increase house building, are causing much mouth foaming around the Tory shires, whose genteel communities have got greedy developers expectantly licking their chops.
Hence, some say, the Government’s humiliating defeat in last week’s by-election in Chesham and Amersham.
With little to offer the country by way of ideas, Labour yesterday tabled an opposition day motion on the proposals in a deliberate effort to sow as much division among the government benches as possible.
First thing to note was how well attended the debate was. Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing observed it was the fullest she’d seen the House all year. Funnily enough, over the past week, I’ve begun seeing faces around Parliament who haven’t turned up all year. Have the whips started reading the riot act?
Opening the debate was Labour’s housing spokesman Steve Reed. He described the proposals as ‘nothing less than a developers’ charter’ that silences local communities, so that developers can ‘exploit local communities for profit’. Their donations to the Tories, he pointed out, have increased some 400 per cent since the election. From behind him, came pantomime cries of ‘shame!’
Housing minister Christopher Pincher (pictured), a solid-ish performer with dandyish tendencies, responded to Labour’s criticism of planned reforms on planning law
Relations between Mr Reed and his Conservative counterparts, by the way, are not fragrant.
Tempers flared last year when he accused Communities Minister Robert Jenrick of trying to weigh in behind a development put forward by former publisher Richard Desmond. Mr Desmond, against his better judgment, had at the time forked out £12,000 to attend dreadful Tory fundraising dinners. Jenrick survived calls to resign but much bad blood was spilled.
Responding for the Government was housing minister Christopher Pincher, a solid-ish performer with dandyish tendencies. Mr Pincher wears silken pocket squares and enjoys a fine cut of cloth. But his speech was not without muscle.
Pincher accused Reed of behaving like a modern day ‘witchfinder general’ who sees ‘conspiracy under every brick’.
He compared him to former sports presenter-turned conspiracy theorist loon David Icke. ‘How long before he goes jumping into a turquoise tracksuit and telling everyone the world is run by lizards?’ he enquired. Reed chuckled away merrily behind his mask. I wasn’t quite sure he knew who Icke was.
We heard briefly from Valerie Vaz (Lab, Walsall S), the first time we’ve done so since Sir Keir Starmer removed her as shadow leader of the House following Labour’s local elections disaster.
William Wragg (Con, Hazel Grove) rose and chivalrously pronounced Vaz’s sacking as ‘deeply unfair’. He told the House that she ‘wasn’t the problem at all’. Vaz chortled along in agreement.
Wragg was among a number Tories who, like Labour, opposed the proposals on the grounds that they neglected communities. But he insisted he was not a ‘nimby’.
Nor was he what he dubbed a ‘banana’ – someone who would ‘build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody’. Warm laughter. Mr Wragg, as I may have noted, is becoming something of a backbench star. Sadly, due to his willingness to stand up to the Government, I fear that is where he shall remain. Which is a terrible waste.
Other dissenting voices include Sir John Hayes (Con, South Holland and The Deepings) who also demanded the reforms be more community orientated. He wanted an end to ‘identikit, soulless housing estates’. Bob Seely (Con, Isle of Wight) urged the Government to work with communities rather than treating them like ‘foie gras geese, with ever more housing shoved down them’.
Closing the debate, Jenrick insisted the plan-making process would become ‘faster and better’. Perhaps so. But they’re making Home County Tories jolly nervous. The Government should ignore them at their peril.
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