Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central Tory MP who was recently appointed as Minister for Housing and Planning in Theresa May’s government, has failed to rule out blocking the building of new homes as proposed under the Local Plan in his home borough.
The latest consultation on Croydon’s Local Plan closes tonight. Detailed work on the Local Plan has been going on at Croydon Council for more than three years, having been begun under the previous Conservative administration at the Town Hall. The Local Plan includes development policies for the next 20 years, including detailed proposals for building thousands of new homes.
As the local MP, Barwell was part of a populist campaign to oppose building homes on Metropolitan Open Land on sites in his constituency in Ashburton and Shirley, as was proposed in the Local Plan.
Last week, it emerged that as Housing Minister, Barwell is happy to block the building of thousands of new homes just as a favour for one of his Tory mates.
As The Independent reported: “Gavin Barwell used his powers as a minister to intervene and suspend development plans in Bradford after a request from Tory colleague Philip Davies, putting them under potentially indefinite review.”
Thousands of new homes in Yorkshire could be stalled as a consequence of Barwell’s letter.
“Stopping a whole plan is amazing,” Andrew Pelling, Barwell’s predecessor as MP for Croydon Central, now a Labour councillor, told Inside Croydon.
“There is a real danger that he could do this to Croydon, which would damage our local economy. He should rule out doing this to Croydon. Why hasn’t he?”
The Bradford letter has resulted in a formal complaint lodged with Barwell’s boss at the Communities Department, Sajid Javid.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow spokesman on housing, has called Barwell’s intervention in Yorkshire on behalf of Davies “a political ‘mate’s favour’.”
Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley. A graduate of Huddersfield Polytechnic, Davies previously worked for bookies and for Asda. He was elected to parliament in 2005 after receiving funding from a front organisation for Lord Cashcroft, the billionaire tax avoider and former boss of… Gavin Barwell.
Since entering parliament, Davies has been discovered to have received gifts from firms of bookmakers around the same time he had been lobbying the government to provide tax concessions for…. bookmakers.
Davies is noted for using parliamentary filibusters, having managed to talk out of time proposals to protect tenants from eviction for requesting that their landlords carry our repairs, and to block measures which would have provided first aid training to children.
The Independent reported that Barwell “… wrote to Bradford Metropolitan District Council to tell them he was using his powers under the Planning Act to direct them not to proceed until he gave them further notice. The letter explicitly cites complaints by Mr Davies, the MP for Shipley, as the reason for the suspension of the project, which has been nine years in the planning. The minister’s intervention invokes new powers the government granted itself earlier this year.”
In his complaint to Javid, Healey points out that, “Despite all stages of consultation and approval – from local people, council and Planning Inspector – being completed, this action stops the plan’s adoption in its tracks.”
And it remains possible that Barwell could pull a similar stunt much closer to home.
When Barwell’s letter to the Bradford local authority was published, Inside Croydon contacted the MP and asked, “Will you assure the people of Croydon today that you will not intervene in a similar manner on the Croydon Local Plan?”
Five days later, and Barwell has failed to take the opportunity to reassure residents in his constituency, the local council and the thousands of homeless people on Croydon’s housing waiting list that he would not be so reckless as to use his ministerial powers to over-rule a delegated local process and potentially halt the building of much-needed homes.
Barwell has only been a minister for a couple of months, but he has already managed to attract widespread criticism for his unguarded comments in support of building even smaller new homes (so that young people are better able to afford them, according to Barwell, who lives in a £700,000 house in Sanderstead), has publicly questioned the role of local plans and he has been given a stern dressing down from aides to the Prime Minister for his suggestion that grandparents should bequeath their homes to their grandchildren so that they might get a step on to the property ladder.
In his letter to the burghers of Bradford, as published by The Independent, Barwell – who signs himself “Gavin”, as if he has delusions of being some sort of minor royal – writes: “The Secretary of State has received a request to intervene in the Bradford Core Strategy Development Plan (“The Plan”) from Philip Davies, MP for Shipley,” the letter to the council says.
“The request raises a number of issues including the proposed release of green belt, particularly in Wharfedale, development of green belt before brownfield land is exhausted … and the appropriate location for development to alleviate housing need and contribute to the regeneration of Bradford city centre.
“In exercise of his powers under section 21A of the Act (inserted by section 145 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016), the Secretary of State hereby directs City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council not to take any step in connection with the adoption of the Plan, while issues raised in the letters are considered further.
“This direction will remain in force until it is withdrawn by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of State gives a direction under section 21 of the 2004 Act in relation to the plan. My officials will be in touch with your officers to discuss next steps and we will keep the Council updates throughout our considerations.”
The press office at the Department of Communities and Local Government must be getting used very quickly to having to issue statements which try to re-balance the latest gaffe from Barwell. On this occasion, they have described the suspension of the Bradford development as a “holding decision”.
They told the Indy: “The holding direction was issued purely because of concerns over development on the Green Belt. This holding direction will allow time for proper consideration of these issues.”
Bradford has been working on its local plan for nine years.
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