MP wins "important" new planning guidance
The Government promised new planning guidance to "defend the interests of local authorities" after Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert moved an amendment in the Commons yesterday (Monday 26 January) to abolish the Planning Inspectorate.
A senior Minister said that Mr Herbert made "a powerful and persuasive case" after he criticised the Inspectorate for undermining localism and called for a new community right of appeal against adverse planning decisions which run contrary to emerging neighbourhood or local plans.
The MP also called for direct compensation for property owners under whose land drilling take place for fracking. His amendments to the Infrastructure Bill were backed by senior Conservatives including Mid-Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Herbert praised the Government's Localism Act but warned that a "plan-led system can sometimes be a developer-led system, which is not what we want. Localism can be undermined, especially by decisions of the Planning Inspectorate."
The MP quoted from a cross-party Commons Select Committee on Communities & Local Government report, published before Christmas, which said that it had received a great deal of evidence that the National Planning Policy Framework “is not preventing unsustainable development in some places” and that “inappropriate housing is being imposed upon some communities as a result of speculative planning applications.”
Mr Herbert said that "such speculative applications, put in against the wishes of communities drawing up neighbourhood plans, are particularly damaging. Developers know that they have an opportunity to get permission for sites that they would not get permission for were the neighbourhood plan to go through. Too often, the Planning Inspectorate either upholds on appeal a local authority’s decisions to decline those applications or terrifies the local authority into submission, so that it gives permission because it knows that otherwise it would lose an appeal and would have to spend a great deal of money on doing so."
The MP pointed out that the Conservative Party’s manifesto at the last election had pledged “to give communities greater control over planning, we will ... abolish the power of planning inspectors to rewrite local plans”, yet that was exactly what it was doing.
Sir Nicholas Soames agreed, saying that it was "immensely discouraging to communities trying to make local plans when their wishes are ridden over roughshod by the Planning Inspectorate".
Mr Herbert said that the Inspectorate had raised housing numbers in the Horsham District to beyond the level set out in the South-East Plan, and was causing delay at a time when "responsible authorities are planning for a great number of houses—40,000 in the district council areas that cover my constituency, where there are 7,000 unbuilt planning permissions in one authority alone (Horsham)."
The Minister, John Hayes MP, intervened to say that the Government would issue new planning guidance to address these problems. He said: “My right hon. Friend is making a powerful and persuasive case. Let me be absolutely clear: if the existing regime is not satisfactory, as he describes, we will have a regime that is. New guidance will be issued that is stronger and more effective that defends the interests of local authorities and that prevents the problems he has set out.”
Mr Herbert responded: "I very much welcome the Minister’s important intervention, and we look forward to that new guidance." He added: "The Planning Inspectorate is meant to stand in the shoes of Ministers. I submit that Ministers could stand in their own shoes and take decisions themselves if they had to interfere. That would perhaps deal with at least some of the £40 million budget and 80 staff of the Planning Inspectorate."
Mr Herbert pointed out that there was an "inequity" because only developers could appeal against planning decisions. He argued that to redress the balance communities should be given a limited right of appeal against planning decisions that run contrary to their local plan or emerging neighbourhood plan, a policy supported by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
The MP concluded: “When we set out to give local communities the right to make decisions, and when we say that we will give people local power, we should mean it. It is not good enough for bureaucratic bodies—in the main, we are pledged to abolish or reduce such bodies—to get in the way of that power and take decisions that should be made by local people.”
Mr Herbert also tabled amendments to address concerns about fracking, providing for compensation to landowners where drilling for shale gas or oil extraction takes place deep underneath their property.
The amendments, which were supported by the CLA (Country Land and Business Association), would provide direct payments to landowners whose access rights have been infringed, whilst still providing compensation to the wider community.
The Government rejected Mr Herbert's proposal but agreed to 13 new conditions before shale extraction can take place, including an environmental assessment. Ministers also agreed to an outright ban on fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and areas where drinking water is collected.
1. To read the Commons debate see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150126/debtext/150126-0003.htm#15012628001195.
2. To read Nick Herbert's blog about his amendments see http://nickherbert.net/2015/01/26/community-power-over-planning/.
3. To read the House of Commons Communities & Local Government Committee's report on 16 December 2014 "Operation of the National Planning Policy Framework" see http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/publications/.