13:02 GMT26 October 2020
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    The Conservative government has used a data algorithm to allot its promised 300,000 new homes per year until 2024 to county and town councils. But Several senior Tory MPs said it ran against the promise to level up the north by concentrating developments in the south-east

    Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May has attacked government plans for 1.5 million new homes for being too focused on the south-east.

    May was backed by former ministers Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling, whose constituencies in rural Surrey and May's Maidenhead seat in Berkshire could see major new developments under the plan that would "concrete out" swathes of countryside.

    Speaking on Parliament on Thursday, the former Tory PM called the data algorithm used by the government to determine where its target of 300,000 new homes per year in this Parliament need to be built "mechanistic" and "ill-conceived".

    "I would have thought the government might have abandoned algorithms by now," she joked in reference to this summer's fiasco over school grades.

    "We need to build more homes, the Government is absolutely right about that," May conceded. "We need to level up across the country, the Government is right about that too."

    But she argued "the problem with these proposals, the problem with this algorithm on housing numbers, is that it doesn't guarantee a single extra home being built and, far from levelling up, it forces more investment into London and the South."

    The plan could see county and town councils in the densely-populated south-eastern Home Counties around London authorised to green light to four times as many new homes to be built than are currently planned, while areas in the north and south-west would be given targets of around half the number of builds currently planned.

    The algorithm sets targets based either on projected growth in the number of households over the next ten years or an increase of half a per cent over the existing number of homes in an area, whichever is highest. Of the 20 zones with the highest targets, 13 have MPs from the ruling Conservative Party.

    Last year's Conservative election manifesto promised to "level up" economically-depressed regions of Britain outside the affluent capital and surrounding south-east, including the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

    The party won a landslide victory with dozens of formerly safe northern "red wall" Labour seats - which had voted strongly to leave the European Union in 2016 - turning Tory blue. 

    Hunt expressed concern over the "risks" of developments across the English countryside, warning: "We lose that at our peril."

    "The argument for building new houses has been won but what is on the table risks eroding local democracy, reducing affordable housing and encroaching on our beautiful countryside," he said. "The government must think again."

    Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely said 'levelling-up' must mean reviving "overlooked northern and Midland towns and stop the endless drift of jobs and opportunities to the south, the shires and suburbs."

    But he warned the plan could mean "the worst of all worlds" as it would "hollow out our cities... urbanise our suburbs and suburbanise the countryside," adding "That is not levelling up but is concreting out."

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    Tags:
    Chris Grayling, Jeremy Hunt, Theresa May, Housing
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