Labour is urging Tories disgruntled by the Government’s planning shake-up to voice their dissent by voting against the first batch of changes designed to fast-track developments.
They have dubbed Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick’s sweeping reforms to the planning process a “developers’ charter” and argued it could lead to slum housing in town and city centres.
It has secured a vote in the Commons on the first elements of the overhaul which the party has claimed will stop local people objecting to inappropriate developments in their streets.
Labour said new powers already issued by the Government will allow empty shops to be demolished and converted into housing without the need for planning permission, while two-storey property extensions will be approved automatically.
The streamline reforms have caused unease within Tory ranks, with fears that local concerns will be ignored in order to build more quickly.
Shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is the first stage of an atrocious new developers’ charter, which will wrench power away from local people and into the hands of the developers that bankroll the Tories.
“Passing this legislation will kill off our high streets, hobble leaseholders and create a new generation of slum housing – and there will be nothing local people can do to stop it.
“If Tory MPs vote through this legislation, they will permanently silence local voices and show their communities that it’s not just Robert Jenrick who is in the pockets of developers.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior aide Dominic Cummings have both advocated reform to the planning system, and the proposals in the Planning for the Future White Paper last month set out the Government’s vision.
The envisaged new process will involve quicker development on land which has been designated “for renewal”, with a “permission in principle” approach that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said will balance the need for proper checks with a speedier way of working.
The other two categories will see land designated for growth where new homes, hospitals and schools will be allowed automatically to empower development, while areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the protection category.
But Labour said changes already made by ministers before the summer recess, in the form of statutory instruments which are not put to a vote by MPs, show a disregard for local scrutiny.
Changes to the Town and Country Planning regulations will allow some blocks of flats to have up to two storeys added, empty high street shops to be demolished and rebuilt as housing and for homes could be extended upwards by two storeys, all without the requirement for council approval, said Labour.
The party highlighted that the changes were brought in only weeks after the Westferry Printworks development scandal, in which Mr Jenrick unlawfully approved a £1 billion development for Conservative donor Richard Desmond, saving him tens of millions of pounds due in tax.
Planning permission for the east London development was later reversed after the Cabinet minister, who faced calls to resign over his handling of the application, admitted “bias” following contact with former newspaper magnate Mr Desmond.