Neighbourhood Planning Bill

This week in the Commons I moved amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to give greater protection to neighbourhood plans from speculative development. 

A number of villages in West Sussex have passed neighbourhood plans, only to find that these have been undermined by planning applications which have been allowed, either by the local council or by the Planning Inspector on appeal, even though they are contrary to the neighbourhood plan.

Developers are undoubtedly gaming the system so as to secure planning permissions in a way that is deeply cynical and is undermining the principles of localism and community control.  The risk is that public support for neighbourhood planning will be lost.

My amendments were designed to prevent this and were backed by a number of senior MPs, including Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex).

I was very pleased that the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, recognised the problem.  In a formal Written Ministerial Statement he confirmed that “where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted”. 

The Minister pledged to introduce measures requiring councils to inform neighbourhoods when they make planning decisions, one of the proposals in my amendments.

The Minister also accepted that there was a need to address the issue whereby “communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because their local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites.” 

He announced that neighbourhood plans would be protected for two years, unless there is significant lack of land supply – that is, under three years.  He has written to the Planning Inspectorate and local councils drawing their attention to the new policy.

The Government will consider further measures to address the problem of the five-year land supply issue in a Housing White Paper in the New Year.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England, which supported my amendments,  said that the new measures were “important steps in the right direction of strengthening communities' faith in the power of neighbourhood planning.”

It said that the concessions from Government will not only strengthen neighbourhood planning and improve public confidence in it, but also help to protect precious green space across England from unnecessary development.

I'm delighted that the Government listened to our concerns about neighbourhood plans and has acted. 

Nick Herbert