Localism and the 'Save our Countryside Charter'

I have always been passionate about protecting the countryside and rural communities.  Planning issues are of huge concern locally, as we have seen from packed public meetings in Angmering, Storrington, the five villages and Henfield.

I recognise that more affordable housing is needed for young people, but I also feel strongly that this must be provided sustainably, protecting the rural character of our villages, with regard to available infrastructure, and minimising damage to the countryside.

That is why I was very pleased this week to sign up to the Campaign to Protect Rural England's ‘Save our Countryside Charter'.  This says that brownfield sites should be developed before open countryside, local people should have the final say over housing, and new housing should be well-designed and affordable.

The Government pledged local decision-making in planning.  The Localism Act 2011 scrapped the South East regional plan, giving each district council the power to create a local plan and each village a neighbourhood plan, so that housing locations are decided by communities and not from on high.

In an article in the Guardian on Monday, I said that the new system could work.  Communities have started to focus on what their villages and towns need, rather than on what they don't want.  The earliest plans, such as Kirdford's, have envisioned more affordable housing, not less.

My concern is that, when parish councils are investing a lot of time and effort in preparing their neighbourhood plans, and responsibly providing for a reasonable level of new housing, they are being undermined by speculative planning applications from developers which are then upheld by the Inspectorate.

I want to ensure that proper weight is given to plans that are in preparation, and our district councils are truly permitted to set sustainable housing numbers.

On Tuesday, I attended the CPRE's launch event in Westminster and discussed these issues with delegates from Henfield, Pulborough and other parts of West Sussex.

And on Wednesday I secured a debate in Westminster Hall where I was able to put these points to the Minister, Nick Boles.

I was strongly supported by Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames and by many MPs from all over the country, showing a growing concern about these issues.

I strongly believe in localism.  In West Sussex we simply want the say over planning we were promised, so that we can provide affordable housing while protecting our villages and green spaces.

Christopher N Howarth