A controversial new planning law which would have allowed uncontrolled building in parts of the country has been scrapped by Michael Gove.
The Levelling Up Secretary told MPs at a private meeting this week that he had decided not to proceed with a major separate piece of planning legislation to put the reforms into law.
Instead, more limited changes to planning rules will be incorporated as part of a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will be set out in the Queen’s Speech in the spring.
The news is a significant victory for Tory MPs who have been fighting the reforms since they were first mooted by Robert Jenrick, Mr Gove’s predecessor, more than a year ago.
The news came amid calls by backbenchers to get rid of policies that are seen as “un-Conservative”. Last weekend, ministers dropped plans to ban imports of foie gras and fur.
The timing of the news could have a bearing on Thursday’s by-election in Birmingham Erdington where the Tories want to cut into Labour’s 3,601 majority from the 2019 general election.
The planning reforms were seen as a contributing factor to the Tories’ shock defeat at the Chesham and Amersham by-election last June.
The planning overhaul was first set out in a “Planning for the Future” White Paper, normally the precursor to legislation, by Mr Jenrick last February.
Under the “once-in-a-generation” reform, he had proposed replacing the current regime in England, under which local planning officials assess applications case by case, with new rules based on zones.
Councils in England would have been asked to classify land in their areas as either “protected”, for “renewal” or for “growth”, prompting an outcry from Conservative MPs fearful of uncontrolled development.
These growth zones were particularly controversial because once areas were designated local council planning committees or residents would have no right to say what is built in them.
The reforms were then officially “paused and under review” when Mr Gove took over in the housing brief last autumn.
Mr Gove disclosed his decision to drop plans for a separate piece of legislation to enshrine the changes in law at a private meeting of 45 Tory backbenchers on Tuesday.
According to sources, Mr Gove told the meeting: “There is no standalone Planning Bill.”
Instead, other planning reforms will be folded into a new Levelling Up legislation.
Mr Gove also told the meeting that the “growth zones” are now “definitely not going to happen”.
A second source said that the news was a “partial retreat” adding that it was clear the planning reforms had been “watered down”.
Mr Gove “was indicating that some of the most radical proposals that were in the White Paper will now no longer find their way into the Bill”.
Tory MPs were delighted by the climbdown. One MP said: “This is really encouraging. There are now clear indications from the Government that they are changing course on planning.”
However, they warned that other controversial reforms also had to go, such as the “algorithms” which calculate housing need and can impose large-scale developments on small communities in the South.
The MP said: “We still need assurances that other problematic elements of those proposals will be scrapped too. And we need changes to the current system of housing targets which are creating intolerable pressure for over-development.”
Scaling back the reforms is a risk for Mr Gove, as it raises the possibility that ministers might miss their manifesto pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of this decade.
A source close to Mr Gove confirmed the decision, saying: “There will be some sensible measures to tidy up the planning system in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the next Queen’s Speech.”
A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We continue to keep the planning system under review to ensure it is best equipped to level up the country. Any changes will be announced in due course.”