Boris Johnson has urged the Government to accelerate levelling-up measures such as planning reform and devolution in order to unleash the UK’s “massive potential”.
The Tory former prime minister said the UK is one of the most “regionally imbalanced” major economies as he made the case to “push forward urgently” with some of the policies he championed when in Downing Street.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove, who answered his question in the Commons, thanked him for his “leadership” on the issue as the Labour benches roared with laughter.
Making an appearance during communities questions, the ex-PM said: “Given that the UK is one of the most regionally imbalanced of all the major economies and given the massive potential that is waiting to be unleashed, is it not time to accelerate the Levelling Up Bill now stalled and push forward urgently with Northern Powerhouse Rail, planning reform, devolution, secure affordable energy supply, gigabit broadband and all the other levelling-up measures that will make this the strongest and most prosperous economy in Europe?”
Mr Gove replied: “Can I take this opportunity to thank him for the leadership that he showed on this issue?”
As opposition MPs raucously laughed, he continued: “The Levelling Up White Paper would not have been published without his determination to ensure that at the heart of Government are 12 clear missions, which will ensure that this country achieves its full potential.”
“As ever, he had nothing like the same scale of ambition or vision as him (Boris Johnson) when it came to making this country great.”
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which is currently passing through the House of Lords, underpins a series of economic rebalancing aims, which had been set out in a Government white paper published last year.
Elsewhere in the debate, Conservative backbenchers raised concerns about proposed housing and planning reform.
Ben Everitt, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North, told MPs: “House prices are all over the headlines yet again. But it is affordability that is the key issue.
“Does the housing minister agree with me that when we do get new houses built, often taking years and years to go through planning, they all look like identikit estates, just like the estates that we have already?
“We need affordable homes that local people can aspire to, and retirement homes for later living. Does she agree with me that we need to build the right houses in the right place?”
Communities minister Rachel Maclean responded: “We are absolutely committed to building the right houses in the right places and that includes enabling local communities to have more say over the design and type of housing.
“We are doing that through the Levelling Up Bill, through design codes, through street votes, through reforming the planning system.”
Tory MP for Crawley Henry Smith called for “an assurance that the brownfield first policy will be paramount to protect the greenbelt and green fields from development”.
Mr Gove told him this was “absolutely at the heart of the strategic plan for Homes England”.