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Former Tory donor hints at switch to Labour after being ‘impressed’ by manifesto

Spencer McCarthy
Spencer McCarthy has described the Tory manifesto as 'very disappointing'

A former Tory donor has suggested he could switch his allegiance to Labour after being “impressed” by Sir Keir Starmer’s manifesto.

Spencer McCarthy, chief executive of Churchill Retirement Living and a Tory donor since 2002, said he had not made his mind up over how he would vote in the next election.

Mr McCarthy, whose company donated £150,000 to the Conservative party during the 2019 general election campaign, said he was “impressed” with Labour’s manifesto plans for major planning reform and described the Tory manifesto as “very disappointing”.

“I’m an undecided voter at the moment,” he said.

Mr McCarthy is the latest former Tory donor to drift away from the party under Mr Sunak.

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Conservative peer Lord Harris of Peckham, the founder of Carpetright, told The Telegraph last year that the party didn’t “deserve” to win because of a lack of clear vision.

Richard Walker, the Iceland chief who formerly donated to the party, has switched his allegiances to Labour.

Churchill, which Mr McCarthy co-founded with his brother, is one of Britain’s biggest retirement home builders and manages more than 200 developments across the country.

Mr McCarthy welcomed Labour’s manifesto pledges to shake-up the planning system and build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament.

“The Conservative Party’s failure to streamline planning and meaningfully support brownfield development, particularly hindering SME home builders, requires urgent action and Labour’s manifesto suggests they are prepared to take it,” he said.

Mr McCarthy criticised the “mountains of red tape and additional costs which were piled on under the Conservative government”.

The entrepreneur highlighted his troubles with a 160-home development in Christchurch, Dorset, as evidence.

Churchill had to complete 45 reports and pay a total of £90,000 to make a planning application for the project. Six weeks later, the council said Natural England rules meant they were unable to greenlight any developments in Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch.

“All of these additional costs that we are being hit with reduces the amount of affordable housing that comes forward.”

Mr McCarthy also suggested it was too easy for people to oppose building work in their area.

Retirement home developments, such as Churchill’s projects in Lymington, Hampshire, and Exmouth, Devon, are increasingly blocked by local opposition, he said.

“All too often in the planning system when we are coming into various local authorities and towns we have had petitions against some of our developments because people say they don’t want any more old people in the area,” he said. “At the end of the day it is down to ageism.”

Britain’s ageing population means that there will be a shortfall of 400,000 retirement homes by 2035, according to the Housing Learning and Improvement Network, and Mr McCarthey said the Tory manifesto failed to address older people’s housing needs.

“Nearly 20pc of the UK population are over 65. That’s close to just over 11 million people who are over 65. All too often we see it, when we’ve met with ministers in the past when we’ve been discussing housing, this segment of society does tend to be left aside,” Mr McCarthy said.

Although the Tory manifesto pledged to “encourage the building of different forms of housing, particularly housing for older people”, it included no policy plans on how to do this.

“It really smacks of too little too late,” Mr McCarthy said.