Rishi Sunak visits Sawston on leadership campaign trail as he pledges to safeguard the economy and protect Green Belt
Rishi Sunak visited Sawston Hall yesterday (Wednesday) to convince Conservative party members in the region to support his bid to be the next Prime Minister.
The former Chancellor spoke about his plans for the economy on a day when he also visited Hertfordshire and Newmarket in Suffolk.
Shapour Meftah, a Conservative party member who is standing for the party in the Cambridge City Council by-election in Trumpington ward, said: “He gave a speech and took lots of questions from people and he said that if he was elected as Prime Minister he would do his best to look after the economy.
“He said this country, when his family came here, gave everything and he is trying to give back and look after it. He was really nice, very active and I was pleased with what he said.”
Mr Sunak was born in Southampton to Punjabi Hindu parents, who were raised in the Indian diaspora in south-east Africa.
After his visit, Mr Sunak said: “We’ve been talking about everything on everyone’s minds - the cost of living, how we realise the benefits of Brexit and, crucially, how we beat Keir Starmer’s Labour.”
He discussed rural issues and farming at his final stop of the day.
Mr Sunak’s opponent in the Tory leadership race, foreign secretary Liz Truss, will also visit the Cambridge region, at a date that has not been announced.
The winner of the postal vote of Conservative party members, who will replace Boris Johnson as party leader and Prime Minister, is due to be announced on September 5, following the close of voting on September 2.
Vying to win over Conservative voters concerned about over-development, Mr Sunak has pledged to protect the “precious” Green Belt, arguing more homes can be built on brownfield sites.
He said he would take advantage of the forthcoming refresh of planning laws to prevent local authorities requesting changes to Green Belt boundaries to release land for development.
Mr Sunak said he would order planning authorities to reject those proposals automatically and would task his housing secretary to change policy to make it clear that inappropriate development should not be permitted under any circumstances.
He said his planning policy would be “brownfield, brownfield, brownfield”.
The Richmond MP said: “Green Belt land is extremely precious in the UK. Over the last few years we’ve seen too many examples of local councils circumventing the views of residents by taking land out of the Green Belt for development, but I will put a stop to it.
“Under my plans, if a local community has clearly judged a development to be inappropriate, there are no circumstances in which planning permission should be granted.
“More homes can be built while protecting the green belt and our most precious landscapes. Data shows that well over a million homes could be built across the country on brownfield sites, with particularly high capacity in the North West, Yorkshire, and the West Midlands.
“These places are crying out for new homes and a combination of building here, and more inner-city densification, will help us provide the housing that the UK needs, whilst protecting the countryside around our towns and cities.”
He promised support for local authorities to regenerate industrial land by strengthening policy to encourage densification in inner-city areas.
And to aid local authorities getting Local Plans in place, Mr Sunak would also immediately relax constraints and review “local housing need” projections, which are based on out-of-date 2014 ONS numbers.
His campaign team claimed the announcement was in great contrast to Ms Truss, who has pledged to build one million homes on green belt land.
South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP, Anthony Browne, who has regularly expressed concern over the forthcoming house-building numbers proposed in the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, has already pledged his support to Mr Sunak, as has South East Cambridgeshire’s Tory MP Lucy Frazer.
But Mr Sunak has been accused by critics of “flip-flopping” on his fiscal policy. He pledged to slash temporarily VAT on energy bills, despite repeatedly branding Ms Truss’s tax-cutting plans as “comforting fairy tales”.
He said he would remove VAT from domestic energy bills for a year if the price cap, currently just under £2,000 a year for the average home, exceeds £3,000 as is forecast by experts.
The foreign secretary welcomed the pledge but challenged her rival to “do more” and reverse the National Insurance rise.
She said during a visit to Romford: “I welcome the fact that he is now saying that we should cut taxes because that’s what we need to do.
“I’d like to see more. I’d like to see him commit to going and reversing the National Insurance rise because that National Insurance rise has hit families in the pocket.”
Mr Sunak had rejected calls for a VAT cut to energy bills in February, telling the Commons “there would be no guarantee that suppliers would pass on the discounts to all customers”.
The Tory leadership contenders are due to go head to head in Leeds at the first of 12 hustings.