Rishi Sunak accused of ditching housebuilding targets to please Tory members | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has been accused of ditching housebuilding targets to court Tory members while he was running to be party leader and prime minister.

In an interview with the ConservativeHome website on Thursday, Mr Sunak acknowledged that the “vast majority of people want to own a home” and insisted it was something his party “continue to be incredibly supportive of”.

However, he said that during the summer Tory leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson, he had spoken to Conservative members, activists, and councillors and they expressed “no support” for national housebuilding targets.

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“I spent a lot of the time over the summer when I was talking to so many of our members, so many of our councillors, about our planning system and their views on it,” he said.

“What I heard, consistently, particularly from our councillors and our members, was what they didn’t want was a nationally imposed, top-down set of targets imposed telling them what to do.”

He said the government was instead investing in brownfield sites, schemes for first-time buyers, and stamp duty exemptions.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow levelling up and housing secretary, branded Mr Sunak’s comments “utterly shameful” and accused him of putting party before the country.

“It is utterly shameful that the prime minister admits he ditched housing targets because he’s too weak to stand up to Tory members,” she said.

“That decision has pushed housebuilding off a cliff and exacerbated a housing crisis that was already causing misery for millions of families and young people, but Rishi Sunak clearly thinks that’s all OK because a few thousand Tory members are happy.

“We need a prime minister that puts our country before his party.”

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Why is a Labour tweet causing a stir?

The prime minister’s comments come just two weeks after the government released new figures showing that planning applications in England had fallen to their lowest level in at least 16 years.

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Last December the government came under heavy criticism for watering down a target to build 300,000 homes every year after a number of Tory MPs raised objections.

A Commons vote on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill had to be dropped in November after 60 Conservatives signed an amendment calling for the mandatory target to be scrapped.

The target was then redefined as a “starting point” and “advisory” in a move that generated a backlash from a different set of Tory MPs – including former party chairman Sir Jake Berry – who said: “Conservatives need to deliver for the next generation if we ever expect them to vote for us.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Sunak conceded that his plan to stop small boats in the Channel “won’t happen overnight” as he was pushed on the timescale for fulfilling one of his five key pledges to voters.

He also denied that he had played any role in Mr Johnson’s downfall as prime minister, saying it “wasn’t my doing” and that he had resigned for reasons “personal” to him, including a “fundamental difference on economic policy”.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.