MP presses Government to protect neighbourhood plans
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on the Government to introduce more robust measures to protect neighbourhood plans from developers who are trying to “game the system”.
Speaking in the Commons during the Consideration of Lords’ Amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill on Monday (9 May), the MP pressed the Housing Minister to commit to further steps to ensure that neighbourhood plans are not subverted.
Mr Herbert accepted the Government’s reasons for rejecting his proposed ‘neighbourhood right of appeal’, but he asked the Minister to agree to look at how neighbourhood plans could be strengthened.
A number of parish councils in West Sussex which have passed neighbourhood plans have expressed concerns that developers are trying to get around them.
Mr Herbert has succeeded in persuading the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ a number of these development applications, but believes that greater protection for neighbourhood plans is needed. The MP said: “As the plans are voted on by a local referendum, it is very important that they are respected once they are agreed.”
Neighbourhood plans give communities control over where development can take place, allowing green spaces to be protected while other sites are earmarked for development.
But some developers have attempted to secure planning permission on sites that are not allocated for development in spite of the plans being agreed, or just before they are completed.
The Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, said that he was “happy to make it clear that I want the law to be strongly in favour of neighbourhood plans.” He said that he shared Mr Herbert’s desire to ensure that communities had the confidence to draw up a neighbourhood plan.
Mr Lewis said: “I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that we will work with him and other colleagues to ensure that we give these neighbourhood plans the confidence and primacy that the Government always intended for them. We must ensure that neighbourhood plans are respected by the decision makers.”
Mr Herbert said that neighbourhood planning was “one of the success stories of this Government and a flagship of localism policy”. But he said that it was “of concern to local communities that are about to produce a neighbourhood plan or have made one, and to other areas in the process of producing such plans or considering them, if developers appear to be allowed to come along, game the system, bang in a speculative planning application in the hope that they will get it through”.
The MP rejected the Government’s alternative to a neighbourhood right of appeal, which would require local authorities to identify where there was a conflict with the neighbourhood plan, arguing that it did not go far enough “because it merely reflects what happens in the planning system at the moment”.
But Mr Herbert welcomed the Minister’s commitment to consider further steps to strengthen neighbourhood plans, and his willingness to engage with MPs on the issue.
Speaking after the debate, he said: “I will continue to discuss this issue with ministers and I am optimistic that we will see further measures to strengthen neighbourhood plans in due course.”
1. To read the report of Nick’s speech in the debate and the Minister’s reply see: http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/825/housing-and-planning-bill.
2. To read Nick’s speech about the amendments he originally tabled to the Housing and Planning Bill, see: http://www.nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/792/housing-and-planning-bill.