Boris Johnson indicates U-turn on planning reforms amid fears of 'blue wall' revolt

The Prime Minister sought to reassure Conservative voters in the party’s “blue wall” heartlands that new houses would not be built on greenfield sites. The Government had committed itself in its 2019 manifesto to building 300,000 homes a year. In order to help reach the target, the Cabinet drew up plans to overhaul the planning process.

This would have seen a new “zonal” system where permissions on sites earmarked for development would be automatically approved.

The plans proved contentious and unpopular with many Tory MPs, particularly with those representing rural communities in the South East, due to fears that the reforms would lead to greater house building on greenfield sites.

The party’s subsequent heavy defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June was blamed partly on a voter backlash against the reforms by senior Tory MPs.

The Conservatives saw a 16,000 majority wiped out by the Liberal Democrats, who won the by-election with a majority of 8,000.

In his conference speech, Mr Johnson appeared to indicate that the Government’s focus would now be on increasing construction on brownfield sites.

He told the party faithful: “You can also see how much room there is to build the homes that young families need in this country not on green fields, not just jammed in the South East, but beautiful homes on brownfield sites in places where homes make sense.”

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However, the Prime Minister’s address received a lukewarm reception from many rightwing experts and commentators.

The free market Adam Smith Institute dismissed the speech as “bombastic but vacuous and economically illiterate”.

While the Ryan Shorthouse, the chief executive of the Bright Blue thinktank told The Guardian: “There was nothing new in this speech, no inspiring new vision or policy.”

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