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Sunak made ‘major mistake' in dropping housebuilding targets, senior Tory says

Simon Clarke (Aaron Chown/PA)
Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor

Rishi Sunak’s “major mistake” of dropping housebuilding targets played a role in the Conservatives’ dire local election results, former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke said.

The senior Conservative MP argued on Monday that the Government’s attempts to “pander to the public’s worst instincts” of Nimbyism on homes was failing.

The Prime Minister was under pressure after the Tories shed 960 councillors across England in Thursday’s elections in a result approaching the party’s most pessimistic predictions.

Labour gained 635 seats and won control of 22 councils as the Liberal Democrats also performed strongly.

Mr Clarke, who served in Liz Truss’s chaotic and brief government, blamed both the tumult of last year and current policy for the Tories’ electoral failings.

But he urged colleagues not to be “raking over the coals of what happened” under past administrations and to instead focus on the present.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In these results there is one theme that stands out above all others for me is that we cannot out-Nimby the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, so one aspect of policy that does need to change and change as a matter of urgency is our housing policy.

“So we can get back to building the homes that people need, making the case, the moral, economic, political case, for building the homes that a growing population requires rather than, I’m afraid, trying to pander to the public’s worst instincts on this question, which isn’t working.

“I would say that dropping those targets was a major mistake and I would like those restored.”

He also said there is a need to give more resources to council planning departments, to look at incentives for new infrastructure and to take on the “hollowness” of the Nimby position.

Last year Mr Sunak caved to pressure from Tory backbenchers to make the target of building 300,000 houses a year in England advisory rather than mandatory and has argued there is little support for “top-down targets”.

Some argue that while housebuilding may be needed to increase the chances of holding on to the northern voters won over by Boris Johnson, it will be damaging to the Tories’ chances in their more traditional southern heartlands.

But Mr Clarke said: “The point is that we’ve lost huge swathes of councillors in the South East while having dropped targets and having run away from this argument, so it’s not rewarding us in the South East, it’s actually hurting us.”