I was very pleased this week to join a new ‘Backing Beauty Commission’ (www.webackbeauty.org.uk) which has been set up by the think tank Respublica. Supported by organisations including the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, this is a campaign to promote beautiful places and green spaces for all.
The Commission’s aim is to give power to communities to make their own decisions on how to improve their surroundings, in particular when housing construction or regeneration and other infrastructure development is planned.
One of the problems with development is that it is frequently so ugly. Along with inadequate infrastructure, this is one of the key reasons why people often object to new housing.
We need to build more beautiful places and understand the value of green spaces and good architecture for all. Our forebears were able to do this and we can too.
This should not be an elitist policy. We need to give communities more power and control over their own areas. That’s why I support neighbourhood planning, and in the Commons proposed a neighbourhood right of appeal so that these plans cannot be undermined by speculative developments.
The Lords passed my amendment but the Government had some concerns about it and in the Commons this week substituted a measure which is intended to have the same effect.
To ensure that neighbourhood plans are taken fully into account, there will be a requirement for local planning authorities to identify, in their reports to planning committees, how the neighbourhood plan was taken into account in making a recommendation to grant planning permission.
Planning authorities will also be required to identify in the report any points of conflict between their recommendation and the neighbourhood plan. I have told the Government that I would like to go further, and the Planning Minister did say he would look at this to ensure that neighbourhood plans get the robust support and programme they need. He also said that he had made it clear to the Planning Inspectorate that neighbourhood plans should be respected.
I will keep pressing on this issue. Most people accept that we need more housing. The question is how it is provided. There will be greater acceptance of development if we build more attractive places, provide better infrastructure, and give local communities more control.