Voters switched allegiances over fears more of the rural Chilterns constituency would be built on, due to reforms that will make it easier to get planning permission.
The Tories had held the Buckinghamshire seat since it was created in 1974 and now cabinet ministers are among those warning the Prime Minister that more strongholds could be at risk.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said his party’s victory would ‘send a shockwave through British politics’ while claiming the result demonstrated that the ‘blue wall’ of Conservative southern seats could be vulnerable.
Boris Johnson – who has been very successful in winning seats off Labour in the north – conceded ‘it was certainly a disappointing result’.
When asked if he was neglecting voters in the South in favour of those in the North, he insisted: ‘We believe in uniting and levelling up within regions and across the country.’
The HS2 rail link, which will cut through Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire on its way to Birmingham, became a major issue in the by-election campaign.
While this project is already well under way, rural communities are also objecting to the amount of new homes planned in the south.
Reforms included in the Queen’s speech in May will see areas designated as ‘growth zones’, where projects will be granted automatic planning permission.
Others urban areas will be classed a ‘renewal zones’, where permission is given ‘in principle’ before an application is even submitted.
It is feared that the changes will make it more difficult for councils and campaigners to block new housing schemes in areas where thousands of extra homes are already being built.
Tory rebels want to water down the planning proposals, with the legislation due to be introduced to the Commons later this year.
‘I am in no doubt that this result is a warning shot,’ she wrote in the Telegraph, adding that ‘the people have spoken and we have heard them’.
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers urged ministers ‘to use this as an opportunity to rethink their approach to planning reform’, while writing in the same newspaper.
‘This by-election result should pave the way for a reduction in housing targets for the London suburbs and the South East,’ she said.
‘We need a fairer distribution of new homes across the country, rather than seeking to cram so many thousands more into the crowded South. There needs to be a stronger focus on brownfield sites in urban inner city areas.’
Tory former cabinet minister Damian Green told Boris Johnson to listen to voters and rethink the reforms.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘People want some form of local control … people don’t want to feel that they’re going to have developments dumped on green fields near them when they and their local representatives have had no say over it.’
The by-election was triggered by the death of former Cabinet minister Dame Cheryl Gillan, who took the seat with a majority of 16,233 in the 2019 general election – some 55% of the vote.
But Lib Dem Sarah Green took 56.7% of the vote to secure a majority of 8,028 over the second-placed Tories.
It was also a bad night for Labour who came fourth with just 622 votes, not enough to save the party’s deposit.
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