Radical planning reforms that would have put extra powers in the hands of Robert Jenrick have been put on hold amid the lobbying controversy surrounding the Housing Secretary.
The Telegraph understands that the Government was studying plans to take responsibility for some major developments away from councils and put Mr Jenrick in charge instead.
Ministers believed the Prime Minister would include the proposals in a white paper on planning expected later this year, and had expected him to reference them in a major speech next week on rebuilding Britain after the coronavirus recession.
However, after days of revelations about Mr Jenrick’s relationship with property developer and Tory donor Richard Desmond, Number 10 said the proposals would not be in the speech and are “not our policy”.
Downing Street denied on Wednesday night that there was any link between the Desmond controversy and the decision not to take the proposals forward.
Multiple sources told The Telegraph that government planning advisers had advocated a system of development corporations, which would be set up by the Housing Secretary, and which would have the power to take decisions on planning that would normally have been taken by local authorities.
The development corporations would be able to buy land with taxpayers’ money, grant planning permission to build on it, then sell the land to developers at a profit. All money raised would be used for public benefit by building schools, roads or other infrastructure. The development corporation would also have control over what developers could and could not build.
It would have put huge power in the hands of the Housing Secretary because it effectively bypasses local councils.
One senior minister said: “I’m expecting there to be some mention of development corporations in the speech next week. There is a lot of interest in them within Government.”
However, Downing Street sources said the idea was not going to be adopted.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson had studied controversial plans to make it easier for the Government to redesignate green belt land for development.
Jack Airey, Mr Johnson’s housing adviser, has said in the past that green belt rules have been used “to freeze cities and towns in time” and that “we should be prepared to let them grow in a natural way”.
Advocates of the idea have pointed out that London’s green belt includes derelict and unused land equivalent to 500 football pitches, which could be used for 20,000 homes.
Building on green belt land could help Mr Johnson to hit his target of 300,000 new homes a year, but moves to allow building on green belt land have proved unpopular with grassroots Tories in the past and Downing Street said this, too, was now “not policy” and would not be in his speech.
A Downing Street source denied the planning proposals had been considered by Number 10 and said: “These claims are untrue.”
So it seems two proposals have been put on hold, one to enable housing schemes of over 1,000 dwellings to proceed by DCO, the other to expand development corporations.